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rpHERE are few circumstances among those which 
make up the present condition of human know- 
ledge, more unlike what might have been expected, or 
more significant of the backward state in which spe- 
culation on the most important subjects still lingers, 
than the little progress which has been made in the 
decision of the controversy respecting the criterion of 
right and wrong. From the dawn of philosophy, the 
question concerning the summum bonum, or, what is 
the same thing, concerning the foundation of morality, 
has been accounted the main problem in speculative 
thought, has occupied the most gifted intellects, and 
divided them into sects and schools, carrying on a 
vigorous warfare against one another. And after 
more than two thousand years the same discussions 
continue, philosophers are still ranged under the same 
contending banners, and neither thinkers nor mankind 
at large seem nearer to being unanimous on the 
subject, than when the youth Socrates listened to the 
old Protagoras, and asserted (if Plato's dialogue be 
grounded on a real conversation) the theory of utilita- 
rianism against the popular morality of the so-called 


It is true that similar confusion and uncertainty, 
and in some cases similar discordance, exist respecting 
the first principles of all the sciences, not excepting 
that which is deemed the most certain of them, 
mathematics ; without much impairing, generally in- 
deed without impairing at all, the trustworthiness of 
the conclusions of those sciences. An apparent ano- 
maly, the explanation of which is, that the detailed 
doctrines of a science are not usually deduced from, 
nor depend for their evidence upon, what are called 
its first principles. Were it not so, there would be 
no science more precarious, or whose conclusions were 
more insufficiently made out, than algebra ; which 
derives none of its certainty from what are commonly 
taught to learners as its elements, since these, as laid 
down by some of its most eminent teachers, are as 
full of fictions as English law, and of mysteries as 
theology. The truths which are ultimately accepted 
as the first principles of a science, are really the last 
results of metaphysical analysis, practised on the ele- 
mentary notions with which the science is conversant ; 
and their relation to the science is not that of founda- 
tions to an edifice, but of roots to a tree, which may 
perform their office equally well though they be never 
dug down to and exposed to light. But though in 
science the particular truths precede the general 
theory, the contrary might be expected to be the case 
with a practical art, such as morals or legislation. All 
action is for the sake of some end, and rules of action, 
it seems natural to suppose, must take their whole 
character and colour from the end to which they are 
subservient. When we engage in a pursuit, a clear 
and precise conception of what we are pursuing would 


seem to be the first tiling we need, instead of the last 
we are to look forward to. A test of right and wrong 
must be the means, one would think, of ascertaining 
what is right or wrong, and not a consequence of 
having already ascertained it. 

The difficulty is not avoided by having recourse to 
the popular theory of a natural faculty, a sense or 
instinct, informing us of right and wrong. For be- 
sides that the existence of such a moral instinct is 
itself one of the matters in dispute those believers 
in it who have any pretensions to philosophy, have 
been obliged to abandon the idea that it discerns what 
is right or wrong in the particular case in hand, as our 
other senses discern the sight or sound actually pre- 
sent. Our moral faculty, according to all those of its 
interpreters who are entitled to the name of thinkers, 
supplies us only with the general principles of moral 
judgments ; it is a branch of our reason, not of our 
sensitive faculty; and must be looked to for the 
abstract doctrines of morality, not for perception of it 
in the concrete. The intuitive, no less than what 
may be termed the inductive, school of ethics, insists 
on the necessity of general laws. They both agree 
that the morality of an individual action is not a 
question of direct perception, but of the application of 
a law to an individual case. They recognise also, to a 
great extent, the same moral laws ; but differ as to 
their evidence, and the source from which they derive 
their authority. According to the one opinion, .the 
principles of morals are evident a priori, requiring 
nothing to command assent, except that the meaning 
of the terms be understood. According to the other 
doctrine, right and wrong, as well as truth and false- 



hood, are questions of observation and experience. 
But both hold equally that mprality must be deduced 
from principles ; and the intuitive school affirm as 
strongly as the inductive, that there is a science of 
morals. Yet they seldom attempt to make out a list 
of the a priori principles which are to serve as the 
premises of the science ; still more rarely do they 
make any effort to reduce those various principles to 
one first principle, or common ground of obligation. 
They either assume the ordinary precepts of morals 
as of a priori authority, or they lay down as the com- 
mon groundwork of those maxims, some generality 
much less obviously authoritative than the maxims 
themselves, and which has never succeeded in gaining 
popular acceptance. Yet to support their pretensions 
there ought either to be some one fundamental prin- 
ciple or law, at the root of all morality, or if there be 
several, there should be a determinate order of pre- 
cedence among them ; and the one principle, or the 
rule for deciding between the various principles when 
they conflict, ought to be self-evident. 

To inquire how far the bad effects of this deficiency 
have been mitigated in practice, or to what extent the 
moral beliefs of mankind have been vitiated or made 
uncertain by the absence of any distinct recognition 
of an ultimate standard, would imply a complete 
survey and criticism of past and present ethical doc- 
trine. It would, however, be easy to show that 
whatever steadiness or consistency these moral beliefs 
have attained, has been mainly due to the tacit in- 
fluence of a standard not recognised. Although the 
non-existence of an acknowledged first principle has 
made ethics not so much a guide as a consecration of 


men's actual sentiments, still, as men's sentiments, 
both of favour and of aversion, are greatly influenced 
by what they suppose to be the effects of things upon 
their happiness, the principle of utility, or as Bentham 
latterly called it, the greatest happiness principle, has 
had a large share in forming the moral doctrines even 
of those who most scornfully reject its authority. 
Nor is there any school of thought which refuses to 
admit that the influence of actions on happiness is a 
most material and even predominant consideration in 
many of the details of morals, however unwilling to 
acknowledge it as the fundamental principle of 
morality, and the source of moral obligation. I might 
go much further, and say that to all those a priori mora- 
lists who deem it necessary to argue at all, utilitarian 
arguments are indispensable. It is not my present 
purpose to criticize these thinkers ; but I cannot help 
referring, for illustration, to a systematic treatise by 
one of the most illustrious of them, the Metaphysics of 
Ethics, by Kant. This remarkable man, whose system 
of thought will long remain one of the landmarks in 
the history of philosophical speculation, does, in the 
treatise in question, lay down an universal first prin- 
ciple as the origin and ground of moral obligation ; it 
is this : ' So act, that the rule on which thou actest 
would admit of being adopted as a law by all rational 
beings.' But when he begins to deduce from this 
precept any of the actual duties of morality, he fails, 
almost grotesquely, to show that there would be any 
contradiction, any logical (not to say physical) impos- 
sibility, in the adoption by all rational beings of the 
most outrageously immoral rules of conduct. All 
he shows is that the consequences of their universal 


adoption would be such as no one would choose to 

On the present occasion, I shall, without further 
discussion of the other theories, attempt to contribute 
something towards the understanding and appreciation 
of the Utilitarian or Happiness theory, and towards 
such proof as it is susceptible of. It is evident that 
this cannot be proof in the ordinary and popular 
meaning of the term. Questions of ultimate ends are 
not amenable to direct proof. "Whatever can be proved 
to be good, must be so by being shown to be a means 
to something admitted to be good without proof. The 
medical art is proved to be good, by its conducing to 
health ; but how is it possible to prove that health is 
good? The art of music is good, for the reason, 
among others, that it produces pleasure ; but what 
proof is it possible to give that pleasure is good ? If, 
then, it is asserted that there is a comprehensive 
formula, including all things which are in themselves 
good, and that whatever else is good, is not so as an 
end, but as a mean, the formula may be accepted or 
rejected, but is not a subject of what is commonly 
understood by proof. We are not, however, to infer 
that its acceptance or rejection must depend on blind 
impulse, or arbitrary choice. There is a larger meaning 
of the word proof, in which this question is as amen- 
able to it as any other of the disputed questions of 
philosophy. The subject is within the cognizance of 
the rational faculty ; and neither does that faculty 
deal with it solely in the way of intuition. Conside- 
rations may be presented capable of determining the 
intellect either to give or withhold its assent to the 
doctrine ; and this is equivalent to proof. 


We shall examine presently of what nature are these 
considerations ; in what manner they apply to the 
case, and what rational grounds, therefore, can be 
given for accepting or rejecting the utilitarian formula. 
But it is a preliminary condition of rational acceptance 
or rejection, that the formula should be correctly under- 
stood. I believe that the very imperfect notion ordi- 
narily formed of its meaning, is the chief obstacle 
which impedes its reception; and that could it be 
cleared, even from only the grosser misconceptions, 
the question would be greatly simplified, and a large 
proportion of its difficulties removed. Before, there- 
fore, I attempt to enter into the philosophical grounds 
which can be given for assenting to the utilitarian 
standard, I shall offer some illustrations of the doctrine 
itself; with the view of showing more clearly what it 
is, distinguishing it from what it is not, and disposing 
of such of the practical objections to it as either 
originate in, or are closely connected with, mistaken 
interpretations of its meaning. Having thus pre- 
pared the ground, I shall afterwards endeavour to 
throw such light as I can upon the question, considered 
as one of philosophical theory. 




A PASSING- remark is all that needs be given to 
the ignorant blunder of supposing that those who 
stand up for utility as the test of right and wrong, 
use the term in that restricted and merely colloquial 
sense in which utility is opposed to pleasure. An 
apology is due to the philosophical opponents of 
utilitarianism, for even the momentary appearance of 
confounding them with any one capable of so absurd 
a misconception ; which is the more extraorjdinary, 
inasmuch as the contrary accusation, of referring 
everything to pleasure, and that too in its grossest 
form, is another of the common charges against 
utilitarianism : and, as has been pointedly remarked 
by an able writer, the same sort of persons, and often 
the very same persons, denounce the theory ' as im- 
practicably dry when the word utility precedes the 
word pleasure, and as too practicably voluptuous when 
the word pleasure precedes the word utility/ Those 
who know anything about the matter are aware that 
every writer, from Epicurus to Bentham, who main- 
tained the theory of utility, meant by it, not some- 
thing to be contradistinguished from pleasure, but 
pleasure itself, together with exemption from pain ; 
and instead of opposing the useful to the agreeable or 
the ornamental, have always declared that the useful 


means these, among other things. Yet the common 
herd, including the herd of writers, not only in news- 
papers and periodicals, but in books of weight and 
pretension, are perpetually falling into this shallow 
mistake. Having caught up the word utilitarian, 
while knowing nothing whatever about it but its 
sound, they habitually express by it the rejection, or 
the neglect, of pleasure in some of its forms ; of 
beauty, of ornament, or of amusement. Nor is the 
term thus ignorantly misapplied solely in disparage- 
ment, but occasionally in compliment ; as though it 
implied superiority to frivolity and the mere pleasures 
of the moment. And this perverted use is the only 
one in which the word is popularly known, and the 
one from which the new generation are acquiring 
their sole notion of its meaning. Those who intro- 
duced the word, but who had for many years dis- 
continued it as a distinctive appellation, may well feel 
themselves called upon to resume it, if by doing so 
they can hope to contribute anything towards rescuing 
it from this utter degradation.* 

The creed which accepts as the foundation of morals, 
Utility, or the Greatest Happiness Principle, holds 
that actions are right in proportion as they tend to 
promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the 

* The author of this essay has reason for believing himself to be the 
first person who brought the word utilitarian into use. He did not 
invent it, but adopted it from a passing expression in Mr. Gait's 
Annals of the Parish. After using it as a designation for several years, 
he and others abandoned it from a growing dislike to anything resem- 
bling a badge or watchword of sectarian distinction. But as a name 
for one single opinion, not a set of opinions to denote the recognition 
of utility as a standard, not any particular way of applying it the term 
supplies a want in the language, and offers, in many cases, a convenient 
mode of avoiding tiresome circumlocution. 


reverse of happiness. By happiness is intended plea- 
sure, and the absence of pain ; by unhappiness, pain, 
and the privation of pleasure. To give a clear view 
of the moral standard set up by the theory, much 
more requires to be said ; in particular, what things 
it includes in the ideas of pain and pleasure ; and to 
what extent this is left an open question. But these 
supplementary explanations do not affect the theory 
of life on which this theory of morality is grounded 
namely, that pleasure, and freedom from pain, are the 
only things desirable as ends ; and that all desirable 
things (which are as numerous in the utilitarian as in 
any other scheme) are desirable either for the pleasure 
inherent in themselves, or as means to the promotion 
of pleasure and the prevention of pain. 

Now, such a theory of life excites in many minds, 
and among them in some of the most estimable in 
feeling and purpose, inveterate dislike. To suppose 
that life has (as they express it) no higher end than 
pleasure no better and nobler object of desire and 
pursuit they designate as utterly mean and grovel- 
ling ; as a doctrine worthy only of swine, to whom the 
followers of Epicurus were, at a very early period, 
contemptuously likened; and modern holders of the 
doctrine are occasionally made the subject of equally 
polite comparisons by its German, French, and English 

When thus attacked, the Epicureans have always 
answered, that it is not they, but their accusers, who 
represent human nature in a degrading light; since 
the accusation supposes human beings to be capable of 
no pleasures except those of which swine are capable. 
If this supposition were true, the charge could not be 


gainsaid, but would then be no longer an imputation ; 
for if the sources of pleasure were precisely the same 
to human beings and to swine, the rule of life which 
is good enough for the one would be good enough for 
the other. The comparison of the Epicurean life to 
that of beasts is felt as degrading, precisely because a 
beast's pleasures do not satisfy a human being's con- 
ceptions of happiness. Human beings have faculties 
more elevated than the animal appetites, and when 
once made conscious of them, do not regard anything 
as happiness which does not include their gratification. 
I do not, indeed, consider the Epicureans to have been 
by any means faultless in drawing out their scheme of 
consequences from the utilitarian principle. To do 
this in any sufficient manner, many Stoic, as well as 
Christian elements require to be included. But there 
is no known Epicurean theory of life which does not 
assign to the pleasures of the intellect, of the feelings 
and imagination, and of the moral sentiments, a much 
higher value as pleasures than to those of mere sensa- 
tion. It must be admitted, however, that utilitarian 
writers in general have placed the superiority of 
mental over bodily pleasures chiefly in the greater 
permanency, safety, uncostliness, &c., of the former 
that is, in their circumstantial advantages rather than 
in their intrinsic nature. And on all these points 
utilitarians have fully proved their case ; but they 
might have taken the other, and, as it may be called, 
higher ground, with entire consistency. It is quite 
compatible with the principle of utility to recognise 
the fact, that some kinds of pleasure are more desirable 
and more valuable than others. It would be absurd 
that while, in estimating all other things, quality is 


considered as well as quantity, the estimation of 
pleasures should be supposed to depend on quantity 

If I am asked, what I mean by difference of quality 
in pleasures, or what makes one pleasure more valuable 
than another, merely as a pleasure, except its being 
greater in amount, there is but one possible answer. 
Of two pleasures, if there be one to which all or almost 
all who have experience of both give a decided pre- 
ference, irrespective of any feeling of moral obligation 
to prefer it, that is the more desirable pleasure. If 
one of the two is, by those who are competently 
acquainted with both, placed so far above the other 
that they prefer it, even though knowing it to be at- 
tended with a greater amount of discontent, and would 
not resign it for any quantity of the other pleasure 
which their nature is capable of, we are justified in 
ascribing to the preferred enjoyment a superiority in 
quality, so far outweighing quantity as to render it, in 
comparison, of small account. 

Now it is an unquestionable fact that those who 
are equally acquainted with, and equally capable of 
appreciating and enjoying, both, do give a most 
marked preference to the manner of existence which 
employs their higher faculties. Tew human creatures 
would consent to be changed into any of the lower 
animals, for a promise of the fullest allowance of a 
beast's pleasures ; no intelligent human being would 
consent to be a fool, no instructed person would be an 
ignoramus, no person of feeling and conscience would 
be selfish and base, even though they should be per- 
suaded that the fool, the dunce, or the rascal is better 
satisfied with his lot than they are with theirs. They 


would not resign what they possess more than he, for 
the most complete satisfaction of all the desires which 
they have in common with him. If they ever fancy 
they would, it is only in cases of unhappiness so 
extreme, that to escape from it they would exchange 
their lot for almost any other, however undesirable in 
their own eyes. A being of higher faculties requires 
more to make him happy, is capable probably of more 
acute suffering, and certainly accessible to it at more 
points, than one of an inferior type ; but in spite of 
these liabilities, he can never really wish to sink into 
what he feels to be a lower grade of existence. We 
may give what explanation we please of this unwilling- 
ness ; we may attribute it to pride, a name which is 
given indiscriminately to some of the most and to 
some of the least estimable feelings of which mankind 
are capable : we may refer it to the love of liberty and 
personal independence, an appeal to which was with 
the Stoics one of the most effective means for the in- 
culcation of it ; to the love of power, or to the love of 
excitement, both of which do really enter into and 
contribute to it : but its most appropriate appellation 
is a sense of dignity, which all human beings possess 
in one form or other, and in some, though by no means 
in exact, proportion to their higher faculties, and 
which is so essential a part of the happiness of those 
in whom it is strong, that nothing which conflicts 
with it could be, otherwise than momentarily, an 
object of desire to them. Whoever supposes that this 
preference takes place at a sacrifice of happiness that 
the superior being, in anything like equal circum- 
stances, is not happier than the inferior confounds 
the two very different ideas, of happiness, and content. 


It is indisputable that the being whose capacities of 
enjoyment are low, has the greatest chance of having 
them fully satisfied ; and a highly endowed being will 
always feel that any happiness which he can look for, 
as the world is constituted, is imperfect. But he can 
learn to bear its imperfections, if they are at all 
bearable ; and they will not make him envy the being 
who is indeed unconscious of the imperfections, but 
only because he feels not at all the good which those 
imperfections qualify. It is better to be a human 
being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be 
Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied. And if the 
fool, or the pig, are of a different opinion, it is because 
they only know their own side of the question. The 
other party to the comparison knows both sides. 

It may be objected, that many who are capable of 
the higher pleasures, occasionally, under thd influence 
of temptation, postpone them to the lower. But this 
is quite compatible with a full appreciation of the in- 
trinsic superiority of the higher. Men often, from 
infirmity of character, make their election for the 
nearer good, though they know it to be the less 
valuable ; and this no less when the choice is between 
two bodily pleasures, than when it is between bodily 
and mental. They pursue sensual indulgences to the 
injury of health, though perfectly aware that health is 
the greater good. It may be further objected, that 
many who begin with youthful enthusiasm for every- 
thing noble, as they advance in years sink into indo- 
lence and selfishness. But I do not believe that those 
who undergo this very common change, voluntarily 
choose the lower description of pleasures in preference 
to the higher. I believe that before they devote 


themselves exclusively to the one, they have already 
become incapable of the other. Capacity for the 
nobler feelings is in most natures a very tender plant, 
easily killed, not only by hostile influences, but by 
mere want of sustenance; and in the majority of 
young persons it speedily dies away if the occupations 
to which their position in life has devoted them, and 
the society into which it has thrown them, are not 
favourable to keeping that higher capacity in exercise. 
Men lose their high aspirations as they lose their in- 
tellectual tastes, because they have not time or oppor- 
tunity for indulging them ; and they addict themselves 
to inferior pleasures, not because they deliberately 
prefer them, but because they are either the only ones 
to which they have access, or the only ones which 
they are any longer capable of enjoying. It may be 
questioned whether any one who has remained equally 
susceptible to both classes of pleasures, ever knowingly 
and calmly preferred the lower ; though many, in all 
ages, have broken down in an ineffectual attempt to 
combine both. 

From this verdict of the only competent judges, I 
apprehend there can be no appeal. On a question 
which is the best worth having of two pleasures, or 
which of two modes of existence is the most grateful 
to the feelings, apart from its moral attributes and 
from its consequences, the judgment of those who are 
qualified by knowledge of both, or, if they differ, that 
of the majority among them, must be admitted as 
final. And there needs be the less hesitation to accept 
this judgment respecting the quality of pleasures, since 
there is no other tribunal to be referred to even on 
the question of quantity. What means are there of 


determining which is the acutest of two pains, or the 
intensest of two pleasurable sensations, except the 
general suffrage of those who are familiar with both ? 
Neither pains nor pleasures are homogeneous, and 
pain is always heterogeneous with pleasure. What is 
there to decide whether a particular pleasure is worth 
purchasing at the cost of a particular pain, except the 
feelings and judgment of the experienced? When, 
therefore, those feelings and judgment declare the 
pleasures derived from the higher faculties to be pre- 
ferable in kind, apart from the question of intensity, 
to those of which the animal nature, disjoined from 
the higher faculties, is suspectible, they are entitled 
on this subject to the same regard. 

I have dwelt on this point, as being a necessary 
part of a perfectly just conception of Utility or 
Happiness, considered as the directive rule of human 
conduct. But it is by no means an indispensable 
condition to the acceptance of the utilitarian standard; 
for that standard is not the agent's own greatest hap- 
piness, but the greatest amount of happiness altoge- 
ther ; and if it may possibly be doubted whether a 
noble character is always the happier for its noble- 
ness, there can be no doubt that it makes other peop 
happier, and that the world in general is immensely 
a gainer by it. Utilitarianism, therefore, could only 
attain its end by the general cultivation of nobleness 
of character, even if each individual were only bene- 
fited by the nobleness of others, and his own, so far 
as happiness is concerned, were a sheer deduction 
from the benefit. But the bare enunciation of such 
an absurdity as this last, renders refutation super- 


According to the Greatest Happiness Principle, as 
above explained, the ultimate end, with reference to 
and for the sake of which all other things are desirable 
(whether we are considering our own good or that of 
other people), is an existence exempt as far as possible 
from pain, and as rich as possible in enjoyments, both 
in point of quantity and quality ; the test of quality, 
and the rule for measuring it against quantity, being 
the preference felt by those who in their opportunities 
of experience, to which must be added their habits of 
self-consciousness and self-observation, are best fur- 
nished with the means of comparison. This, being, 
according to the utilitarian opinion, the end of human 
action, is necessarily also the standard of morality; 
which may accordingly be defined, the rules and 
precepts for human conduct, by the observance of 
which an existence such as has been described might 
be, to the greatest extent possible, secured to all 
mankind ; and not to them only, but, so far as the 
nature of things admits, to the whole sentient creation. 

Against this doctrine, however, arises another class 
of objectors, who say that happiness, in any form, 
cannot be the rational purpose of human life and 
action ; because, in the first place, it is unattainable : 
and they contemptuously ask, what right hast thou 
to be happy? a question which Mr. Carlyle clenches 
by the addition, What right, a short time ago, hadst 
thou even to be ? Next, they say, that men can do 
loithout happiness ; that all noble human beings have 
felt this, and could not have become noble but by 
learning the lesson of Entsagen, or renunciation ; 
which lesson, thoroughly learnt and submitted to, 


they affirm to be the beginning and necessary con- 
dition of all virtue. 

The first of these objections would go to the root 
of the matter were it well founded ; for if no happi- 
ness is to be had at all by human beings, the attain- 
ment of it cannot be the end of morality, or of any 
rational conduct. Though, even in that case, some- 
thing might still be said for the utilitarian theory : 
since utility includes not solely the pursuit of happi- 
ness, but the prevention or mitigation of unhappiness : 
and if the former aim be chimerical, there will be all 
the greater scope and more imperative need for the 
latter, so long at least as mankind think fit to live, 
and do not take refuge in the simultaneous act of 
suicide recommended under certain conditions by 
Novalis. When, however, it is thus positively asserted 
to be impossible that human life should be ttappy, the 
assertion, if not something like a verbal quibble, is at 
least an exaggeration. If by happiness be meant a 
continuity of highly pleasurable excitement, it is 
evident enough that this is impossible. A state of 
exalted pleasure lasts only moments, or in some cases, 
and with some intermissions, hours or days, and is the 
occasional brilliant flash of enjoyment, not its perma- 
nent and steady flame. Of this the philosophers who 
have taught that happiness is the end of life were as 
fully aware as those who taunt them. The happiness 
which they meant was not a life of rapture ; but ' 
moments of such, in an existence made up of few and 
transitory pains, many and various pleasures, with a 
decided predominance of the active over the passive, 
and having as the foundation of the whole, not to 
expect more from life than it is capable of bestowing. 


'A life thus composed, to those who have been fortu- 
nate enough to obtain it, has always appeared worthy 
of the name of happiness. And such an existence is 
even now the lot of man} 7 ', during some considerable 
portion of their lives. The present wretched educa- 
tion, and wretched social arrangements, are the only 
real hindrance to its being attainable by almost all. 

The objectors perhaps may doubt whether human 
beings, if taught to consider happiness as the end of 
life, would be satisfied with such a moderate share of 
it. But great numbers of mankind have been satis- 
fied with much less. The main constituents of a 
satisfied life appear to be two, either of which by 
itself is often found sufficient for the purpose : tran- 
quillity, and excitement. With much tranquillity, 
many find that they can be content with very little 
pleasure : with much excitement, many can reconcile 
themselves to a considerable quantity of pain. There 
is assuredly no inherent impossibility in enabling even 
the mass of mankind to unite both ; since the two are 
so far from being incompatible that they are in natural 
alliance, the prolongation of either being a preparation 
for, and exciting a wish for, the other. It is only 
those in whom indolence amounts to a vice, that do 
not desire excitement after an interval of repose : it is 
only those in whom the need of excitement is a disease, 
that feel the tranquillity which follows excitement 
dull and insipid, instead of pleasurable in direct pro- 
portion to the excitement which preceded it. When 
people who are tolerably fortunate in their outward 
lot do not find in life sufficient enjoyment to make it 
valuable to them, the cause generally is, caring for 
nobody but themselves. To those who have neither 



public nor private affections, the excitements of life 
are much curtailed, and in any case dwindle in value 
as the time approaches when all selfish interests must 
be terminated by death : while those who leave after 
them objects of personal affection, and especially those 
who have also cultivated a fellow-feeling with the 
collective interests of mankind, retain as lively an in- 
terest in life on the eve of death as in the vigour of 
youth and health. Next to selfishness, the principal 
cause which makes life unsatisfactory is want of 
mental cultivation. A cultivated mind I do not 
mean that of a philosopher, but any mind to which 
the fountains of knowledge have been opened, and 
which has been taught, in any tolerable degree, to 
exercise its faculties finds sources of inexhaustible 
interest in all that surrounds it; in the objects of 
nature, the achievements of art, the imagiAations of 
poetry, the incidents of history, the ways of mankind, 
past and present, and their prospects in the future. 
It. is possible, indeed, to become indifferent to all this, 
and that too without having exhausted a thousandth 
part of it; but only when one has had from the 
beginning no moral or human interest in these things, 
and has sought in them only the gratification of 

Now there is absolutely no reason in the nature of 
things why an amount of mental culture sufficient to 
give an intelligent interest in these objects of contem- 
plation, should not be the inheritance of every one 
born in a civilized country. As little is there an in- 
herent necessity that any human being should be a 
selfish egotist, devoid of every feeling or care but those 
which centre in his own miserable individuality. Some- 


thing far superior to this is sufficiently common even 
now, to give ample earnest of what the human species 
may be made. Genuine private affections, and a 
sincere interest in the public good, are possible, though 
in unequal degrees, to every rightly brought up human 
being. In a world in which there is so much to inte- 
rest, so much to enjoy, and so much also to correct 
and improve, every one who has this moderate amount 
of moral and intellectual requisites is capable of an 
existence which may be called enviable ; and unless 
such a person, through bad laws, or subjection to the 
will of others, is denied the liberty to use the sources 
of happiness within his reach, he will not fail to find 
this enviable existence, if he escape the positive evils 
of life, the great sources of physical and mental suf- 
fering such as indigence, disease, and the unkind- 
ness, worthlessness, or premature loss of objects of 
affection. The main stress of the problem lies, there- 
fore, in the contest with these calamities, from which 
it is a rare good fortune entirely to escape ; which, as 
things now are, cannot be obviated, and often cannot 
be in any material degree mitigated. Yet no one 
whose opinion deserves a moment's consideration can 
doubt that most of the great positive evils of the 
world are in themselves removable, and will, if human 
affairs continue to improve, be in the end reduced 
within narrow limits. Poverty, in any sense implying 
suffering, may be completely extinguished by the 
wisdom of society, combined with the good sense and 
providence of individuals. Even that most intractable 
of enemies, disease, may be indefinitely reduced in 
dimensions by good physical and moral education, 
and proper control of noxious influences ; while the 


progress of science holds out a promise for the future 
of still more direct conquests over this detestable foe. 
And every advance in that direction relieves us from 
some, not only of the chances which cut short our 
own lives, hut, what concerns us still more, which 
deprive us of those in whom our happiness is wrapt 
up. As for vicissitudes of fortune, and other disap- 
pointments connected with worldly circumstances, 
these are principally the effect either of gross impru- 
dence, of ill-regulated desires, or of bad or imperfect 
social institutions. All the grand sources, in short, 
of human suffering are in a great degree, many of 
them almost entirely, conquerable by human care and 
effort ; and though their removal is grievously slow 
though a long succession of generations will perish in 
the breach before the conquest is completed, and this 
world becomes all that, if will and knowledge were 
not wanting, it might easily be made yet every 
mind sufficiently intelligent and generous to bear a 
part, however small and un conspicuous, in the endea- 
vour, will draw a noble enjoyment from the contest 
itself, which he would not for any bribe in the form 
of selfish indulgence consent to be without. 

And this leads to the true estimation of what is 
said by the objectors concerning the possibility, and 
the obligation, of learning to do without happiness. 
Unquestionably it is possible to do without happiness ; 
it is done involuntarily by nineteen-twentieths of 
mankind, even in those parts of our present world 
which are least deep in barbarism ; and it often has 
to be done voluntarily by the hero or the martyr, for 
the sake of something which he prizes more than his 
individual happiness. But this something, what is 


it, unless the happiness of others, or some of the 
requisites of happiness ? It is noble to be capable of 
resigning entirely one's own portion of happiness, or 
chances of it : but, after all, this self- sacrifice must be 
for some end ; it is not its own end ; and if we are 
told that its end is not happiness, but virtue, which is 
better than happiness, I ask, would the sacrifice be 
made if the hero or martyr did not believe that it 
would earn for others immunity from similar sacri- 
fices ? Would it be made if he thought that his 
renunciation of happiness for himself would produce 
no fruit for any of his fellow creatures, but to make 
their lot like his, and place them also in the condition 
of persons who have renounced happiness ? All honour 
to those who can abnegate for themselves the personal 
enjoyment of life, when by such renunciation they 
contribute worthily to increase the amount of happi- 
ness in the world ; but he who does it, or professes to 
do it, for any other purpose, is no more deserving of 
admiration than the ascetic mounted on his pillar. 
He may be an inspiriting proof of what men can do, 
but assuredly not an example of what they should. 

Though it is only in a very imperfect state of the 
world's arrangements that any one can best serve the 
happiness of others by the absolute sacrifice of his 
own, yet so long as the world is in that imperfect 
state, I fully acknowledge that the readiness to make 
such a sacrifice is the highest virtue which can be 
found in man. I will add, that in this condition of 
the world, paradoxical as the assertion may be, the 
conscious ability to do without happiness gives the 
best prospect of realizing such happiness as is attain- 
able. For nothing except that consciousness, can 


raise a person above the chances of life, by making 
him feel that, let fate and fortune do their worst, they 
have not power to subdue him : which, once felt, frees 
him from excess of anxiety concerning the evils of 
life, and enables him, like many a Stoic in the worst 
times of the Eoman Empire, to cultivate in tranquil- 
lity the sources of satisfaction accessible to him, with- 
out concerning himself about the uncertainty of their 
duration, any more than about their inevitable end. 

Meanwhile, let utilitarians never cease to claim the 
morality of self devotion as a possession which belongs 
by as good a right to them, as either to the Stoic or 
to the Transcendentalist. The utilitarian morality 
does recognise in human beings the power of sacri- 
ficing their own greatest good for the good of others. 
It only refuses to admit that the sacrifice is itself a 
good. A sacrifice which does not increase, or/ tend to 
increase, the sum total of happiness, it considers as 
wasted. The only self-renunciation which it applauds, 
is devotion to the happiness, or to some of the means 
of happiness, of others ; either of mankind collectively, 
or of individuals within the limits imposed by the 
collective interests of mankind. 

I must again repeat, what the assailants of utili- 
tarianism seldom have the justice to acknowledge, that 
the happiness which forms the utilitarian standard of 
what is right in conduct, is not the agent's own hap- 
piness, but that of all concerned. As between his 
own happiness and that of others, utilitarianism re- 
quires him to be as strictly impartial as a disinterested 
and benevolent spectator. In the golden rule of Jesus 
of Nazareth, we read the complete spirit of the ethics 
of utility. To do as you would be done by, and to 


love your neighbour as yourself, constitute the ideal 
perfection of utilitarian morality. As the means of 
making the nearest approach to this ideal, utility 
would enjoin, first, that laws and social arrangements 
should place the happiness, or (as speaking practically 
it may be called) the interest, of every individual, as 
nearly as possible in harmony with the interest of the 
whole; and secondly, that education and opinion, 
which have so vast a power over human character, 
should so use that power as to establish in the mind 
of every individual an indissoluble association between 
his own happiness and the good of the whole ; espe- 
cially between his own happiness and the practice of 
such modes of conduct, negative and positive, as regard 
for the universal happiness prescribes; so that not 
only he may be unable to conceive the possibility of 
happiness to himself, consistently with conduct opposed 
to the general good, but also that a direct impulse to 
promote the general good may be in every individual 
one of the habitual motives of action, and the senti- 
ments connected therewith may fill a large and pro- 
minent place in every human being's sentient existence. 
If the impugners of the utilitarian morality repre- 
sented it to their own minds in this its true character, 
I know not what recommendation possessed by any 
other morality they could possibly affirm to be wanting 
to it ; what more beautiful or more exalted develop- 
ments of human nature any other ethical system can 
be supposed to foster, or what springs of action, not 
accessible to the utilitarian, such systems rely on for 
giving effect to their mandates. 

The objectors to utilitarianism cannot always be 
charged with representing it in a discreditable light. 


On the contrary, those among them who entertain 
anything like a just idea of its disinterested character, 
sometimes find fault with its standard as being too 
high for humanity. They say it is exacting too much 
to require that people shall always act from the in- 
ducement of promoting the general interests of society. 
But this is to mistake the very meaning of a standard 
of morals, and confound the rule of action with the 
motive of it. It is the business of ethics to tell us 
what are our duties, or by what test we may know 
them ; but no system of ethics requires that the sole 
motive of all we do shall be a feeling of duty ; on the 
contrary, ninety-nine hundredths of all our actions 
are done from other motives, and rightly so done, if 
the rule of duty does not condemn them. It is the 
more unjust to utilitarianism that this particular mis- 
apprehension should be made a ground of objection 
to it, inasmuch as utilitarian moralists have gone 
beyond almost all others in affirming that the motive 
has nothing to do with the morality of the action, 
though much with the worth of the agent. He who 
saves a fellow creature from drowning does what is 
morally right, whether his motive be duty, or the hope 
of being paid for his trouble ; he who betrays the 
friend that trusts him, is guilty of a crime, even if his 
object be to serve another friend to whom he is under 
greater obligations. But to speak only of actions 
done from the motive of duty, and in direct obedience 
to principle : it is a misapprehension of the utilitarian 
mode of thought, to conceive it as implying that people 
should fix their minds upon so wide a generality as the 
world, or society at large. The great majority of good 
actions are intended not for the benefit of the world, 


but for that of individuals, of which the good of the 
world is made up ; and the thoughts of the most 
virtuous man need not on these occasions travel heyond 
the particular persons concerned, except so far as is 
necessary to assure himself that in benefiting them he 
is not violating the rights, that is, the legitimate and 
authorized expectations, of any one else. The multi- 
plication of happiness is, according to the utilitarian 
ethics, the object of virtue : the occasions on which 
any person (except one in a thousand) has it in his 
power to do this on an extended scale, in .other words 
to be a public benefactor, are but exceptional ; and on 
these occasions alone is he called on to consider public 
utility; in every other case, private utility, the interest 
or happiness of some few persons, is all he has to 
attend to. Those alone the influence of whose actions 
extends to society in general, need concern themselves 
habitually about so large an object. In the case of 
abstinences indeed of things which people forbear to 
do from moral considerations, though the consequences 
in the particular case might be beneficial it would 
be unworthy of an intelligent agent not to be con- 
sciously aware that the action is of a class which, if 
practised generally, would be generally injurious, and 
that this is the ground of the obligation to abstain from 
it. The amount of regard for the public interest im- 
plied in this recognition, is no greater than is demanded 
by every system of morals, for they all enjoin to abstain 
from whatever is manifestly pernicious to society. 

The same considerations dispose of another reproach 
against the doctrine of utility, founded on a still 
grosser misconception of the purpose of a standard of 
morality, and of the very meaning of the words right 


and wrong. It is often affirmed that utilitarianism 
renders men cold and unsympathizing ; that it chills 
their moral feelings towards individuals ; that it makes 
them regard only the dry and hard consideration of 
the consequences of actions, not taking into their 
moral estimate the qualities from which those actions 
emanate. If the assertion means that they do not 
allow their judgment respecting the rightness or wroiig- 
ness of an action to be influenced by their opinion of 
the qualities of the person who does it, this is a com- 
plaint not against utilitarianism, but against having 
any standard of morality at all ; for certainly no known 
ethical standard decides an action to be good or bad 
because it is done by a good or a bad man, still less 
because done by an amiable, a brave, or a benevolent 
man, or the contrary. These considerations are rele- 
vant, not to the estimation of actions, but of ^persons ; 
and there is nothing in the utilitarian theory incon- 
sistent with the fact that there are other things which 
interest us in persons besides the rightness and wrong- 
ness of their actions. The Stoics, indeed, with the 
paradoxical misuse of language which was part of their 
system, and by which they strove to raise themselves 
above all concern about anything but virtue, were fond 
of saying that he who has that has everything ; that 
he, and only he, is rich, is beautiful, is a king. But 
no claim of this description is made for the virtuous 
man by the utilitarian doctrine. Utilitarians are quite 
aware that there are other desirable possessions and 
qualities besides virtue, and are perfectly willing to 
allow to all of them their full worth. They are also 
aware that a right action does not necessarily indicate 
a virtuous character, and that actions which are blame- 


able, often proceed from qualities entitled to praise. 
When this is apparent in any particular case, it modifies 
their estimation, not certainly of the act, but of the 
agent. I grant that they are, notwithstanding, of 
opinion, that in the long run the best proof of a good 
character is good actions ; and resolutely refuse to con- 
sider any mental disposition as good, of which the 
predominant tendency is to produce bad conduct. 
This makes them unpopular with many people ; but 
it is an unpopularity which they must share with 
every one who regards the distinction between right 
and wrong in a serious light ; and the reproach is not 
one which a conscientious utilitarian need be anxious 
to repel. 

If no more be meant by the objection than that 
many utilitarians look on the morality of actions, as 
measured by the utilitarian standard, with too exclu- 
sive a regard, and do not lay sufficient stress upon the 
other beauties of character which go towards making 
a human being loveable or admirable, this may be 
admitted. Utilitarians who have cultivated their 
moral feelings, but not their sympathies nor their 
artistic perceptions, do fall into this mistake ; and so 
do all other moralists under the same conditions. 
What can be said in excuse for other moralists is 
equally available for them, namely, that if there is to 
be any error, it is better that it should be on that side. 
As a matter of fact, we may affirm that among utili- 
tarians as among adherents of other systems, there is 
every imaginable degree of rigidity and of laxity in 
the application of their standard : some are even puri- 
tanically rigorous, while others are as indulgent as 
can possibly be desired by sinner or by sentimentalist. 


I>ui on the vvliolc, adoctrino which lyings prominently 
forward the interest that mankind have in the n - 
pression and prevention of conduct which violates the 
moral law, is likely to he inferior to no other in turning 
the sanctions of opinion against such violations. It 
is true, the question, What does violate the moral 
law ? is one on which those who recognise different 
standards of morality are likely now and then to 
differ. But difference of opinion on moral questions was 
not first introduced into the world hy utilitarianism, 
\vliile that doctrine does supply, if not always an easy, 
at all events a tangible and intelligible mode of deciding 
such differences. 

It may not be superfluous to notice a few more of 
the common misapprehensions of utilitarian ethics, 
even those which are so obvious and gross that it 
might appear impossible for any person of candour 
and intelligence to fall into them; since persons, even 
of considerable mental endowments, often give them- 
selves so little trouble to understand the bearings of 
any opinion against which they entertain a prejudice, 
und men are in general so little conscious of this 
voluntary ignorance as a defect, that the vulgarest 
misunderstandings of ethical doctrines are continually 
met with in the deliberate writings of persons of the 
greatest pretensions both to high principle and to philo- 
sophy. We not uncommonly hear the doctrine of 
utility inveighed against as a godless doctrine. If it 
be necessary to say anything at all against so mere an 
assumption, we may say that the question depends 
upon what idea we have formed of the moral character 
of the Deity. If it be a true, belief that God desires, 


above all things, the happiness of his creatures, and 
that this was his purpose in their creation, utility is 
not only not a godless doctrine, but more profoundly 
religious than any other. If it be meant that utili- 
tarianism does not recognise the revealed will of God 
as the supreme law of morals, I answer, that an utili- 
tarian who believes in the perfect goodness and wisdom 
of God, necessarily believes that whatever God has 
thought fit to reveal on the subject of morals, must 
fulfil the requirements of utility in a supreme degree. 
But others besides utilitarians have been of opinion 
that the Christian revelation was intended, and is 
fitted, to inform the hearts and minds of mankind 
with a spirit which should enable them to find for 
themselves what is right, and incline them to do it 
when found, rather than to tell them, except in a very 
general way, what it is ; and that we need a doctrine 
of ethics, carefully followed out, to interpret to us the 
will of God. Whether this opinion is correct or not, 
it is superfluous here to discuss ; since whatever aid 
religion, either natural or revealed, can afford to ethical 
investigation, is as open to the utilitarian moralist as 
to any other. He can use it as the testimony of God to 
the usefulness or hurtfulness of any given course of 
action, by as good a right as others can use it for the 
indication of a transcendental law, having no connexion 
with usefulness or with happiness. 

Again, Utility is often summarily stigmatized as an 
immoral doctrine by giving it the name of Expediency, 
and taking advantage of the popular use of that term 
to contrast it with Principle. But the Expedient, in 
the sense in which it is opposed to the Eight, gene- 
rally means that which is expedient for the particular 


interest of the agent himself; as when a Minister 
sacrifices the interests of his country to keep himself 
in place. "When it means anything better than this, 
it means that which is expedient for some immediate 
object, some temporary purpose, but which violates a 
rule whose observance is expedient in a much higher 
degree. The Expedient, in this sense, instead of being 
the same thing with the useful, is a branch of the 
hurtful. Thus, it would often be expedient, for the 
purpose of getting over some momentary embarrass- 
ment, or attaining some object immediately useful to 
ourselves or others, to tell a lie. But inasmuch as 
the cultivation in ourselves of a sensitive feeling on 
the subject of veracity, is one of the most useful, and 
the enfeeblement of that feeling one of the most 
hurtful, things to which our conduct can be instru- 
mental; and inasmuch as any, even unintentional, 
deviation from truth, does that much towards weaken- 
ing the trustworthiness of human assertion, which is 
not only the principal support of all present social 
well-being, but the insufficiency of which .does more 
than any one thing that can be named to keep back 
civilization, virtue, everything on which human hap- 
piness on the largest scale depends ; we feel that the 
violation, for a present advantage, of a rule of such 
transcendant expediency, is not expedient, and that he 
who, for the sake of a convenience to himself or to some 
other individual, does what depends on him to deprive 
mankind of the good, and inflict upon them the evil, 
involved in the greater or less reliance which they can 
place in each other's word, acts the part of one of their 
worst enemies. Tet that even this rule, sacred as it is, 
admits of possible exceptions, is acknowledged by all 


moralists ; the chief of which is when the withholding 
of some fact (as of information from a malefactor, or 
of bad news from a person dangerously ill) would save 
an individual (especially an individual other than 
oneself) from great and unmerited evil, and when the 
withholding can only be effected by denial. But in 
order that the exception may not extend itself beyond 
the need, and may have the least possible effect in 
weakening reliance on veracity, it ought to be recog- 
nized, and, if possible, its limits defined ; and if the 
principle of utility is good for anything, it must be 
good for weighing these conflicting utilities against 
one another, and marking out the region within which 
one or the other preponderates. 

Again, defenders of utility often find themselves 
called upon to reply to such objections as this that 
there is not time, previous to action, for calculating 
and weighing the effects of any line of conduct on the 
general happiness. This is exactly as if any one were 
to say that it is impossible to guide our conduct by 
Christianity, because there is not time, on every occa- 
sion on which anything has to be done, to read through 
the Old and New Testaments. The answer to the 
objection is, that there has been ample time, namely, 
the whole past duration of the human species. Dur- 
ing all that time mankind have been learning by ex- 
perience the tendencies of actions ; on which experi- 
ence all the prudence, as well as all the morality of 
life, are dependent. People talk as if the commence- 
ment of this course of experience had hitherto been 
put off, and as if, at the moment when some man feels 
tempted to meddle with the property or life of another, 
he had to begin considering for the first time whether 



murder and theft are injurious to liuman happiness. 
Even then I do not think that he would find the 
question very puzzling ; but, at all events, the matter 
is now done to his hand. It is truly a whimsical 
supposition that if mankind were agreed in consider- 
ing utility to be the test of morality, they would 
remain without any agreement as to what is useful, 
and would take no measures for having their notions 
on the subject taught to the young, and enforced by 
law and opinion. There is no difficulty in proving 
any ethical standard whatever to work ill, if we sup- 
pose universal idiocy to be conjoined with it ; but on 
any hypothesis short of that, mankind must by this 
time have acquired positive beliefs as to the effects of 
some actions on their happiness ; and the beliefs 
which have thus come down are the rules of morality 
for the multitude, and for the philosopher until he 
has succeeded in finding better. That philosophers 
might easily do this, even now, on many subjects ; 
that the received code of ethics is by no means of 
divine right ; and that mankind have still much to 
learn as to the effects of actions on the general happi- 
ness, I admit, or rather, earnestly maintain. The 
corollaries from the principle of utility, like the pre- 
cepts of every practical art, admit of indefinite improve- 
ment, and, in a progressive state of the human mind, 
their improvement is perpetually going on. But to con- 
sider the rules of morality as improvable, is one thing ; 
to pass over the intermediate generalizations entirely, 
and endeavour to test each individual action directly 
by the first principle, is another. It is a strange 
notion that the acknowledgment of a first principle is 
inconsistent with the admission of secondary ones. 


To inform a traveller respecting the place of his ulti- 
mate destination, is not to forbid the use of land- 
marks and direction-posts on the way. The proposi- 
tion that happiness is the end and aim of morality, 
does not mean that no road ought to be laid down to 
that goal, or that persons going thither should not be 
advised to take one direction rather than another. 
Men really ought to leave off talking a kind of non- 
sense on this subject, which they would neither talk 
nor listen to on other matters of practical concernment. 
Nobody argues that the art of navigation is not 
founded on astronomy, because sailors cannot wait to 
calculate the Nautical Almanack. Being rational crea- 
tures, they go to sea with it ready calculated ; and all 
rational creatures go out upon the sea of life with 
their minds made up on the common questions of 
right and wrong, as well as on many of the far more 
difficult questions of wise and foolish. And this, as 
long as foresight is a human quality, it is to be pre- 
sumed they will continue to do. Whatever we adopt 
as the fundamental principle of morality, we require 
subordinate principles to apply it by ; the impossi- 
bility of doing without them, being common to all 
systems, can afford no argument against any one in 
particular ; but gravely to argue as if no such secondary 
principles could be had, and as if mankind had re- 
mained till now, and always must remain, without 
drawing any general conclusions from the experience 
of human life, is as high a pitch, I think, as absur- 
dity has ever reached in philosophical controversy. 

The remainder of the stock arguments against 
utilitarianism mostly consist in laying to its charge 
the common infirmities of human nature, and the 

D 2 


general difficulties which embarrass conscientious 
persons in shaping their course through life. We are 
told that an utilitarian will be apt to make his own 
particular case an exception to moral rules, and, when 
under temptation, will see an utility in the breach of 
a rule, greater than he will see in its observance. 
But is utility the only creed which is able to furnish 
us with excuses for evil doing, and means of cheating 
our own conscience ? They are afforded in abundance 
by all doctrines which recognise as a fact in morals 
the existence of conflicting considerations ; which all 
doctrines do, that have been believed by sane persons. 
It is not the fault of any creed, but of the complicated 
nature of human affairs, that rules of conduct cannot 
be so framed as to .require no exceptions, and that 
hardly any kind of action can safely be laid down 
as either always obligatory or always condefnnable. 
There is no ethical creed which does not temper the 
rigidity of its laws, by giving a certain latitude, under 
the moral responsibility of the agent, for accommoda- 
tion to peculiarities of circumstances ; and under every 
creed, at the opening thus made, self-deception and 
dishonest casuistry get in. There exists no moral 
system under which there do not arise unequivocal 
cases of conflicting obligation. These are the real 
difficulties, the knotty points both in the theory of 
ethics, and in the conscientious guidance of personal 
conduct. They are overcome practically with greater 
or with less success according to the intellect and 
virtue of the individual; but it can hardly be pre- 
tended that any one will be the less qualified for 
dealing with them, from possessing an ultimate stan- 
dard to which conflicting rights and duties can be 


referred. If utility is the ultimate source of moral 
obligations, utility may be invoked to decide between 
them when their demands are incompatible. Though 
the application of the standard may be difficult, it is 
better than none at all : while in other systems, the 
moral laws all claiming independent authority, there 
is no common umpire entitled to interfere between 
them ; their claims to precedence one over another 
rest on little better than sophistry, and unless deter- 
mined, as they generally are, by the unacknowledged 
influence of considerations of utility, afford a free 
scope for the action of personal desires and partialities. 
We must remember that only in these cases of conflict 
between secondary principles is it requisite that first 
principles should be appealed to. There is no case of 
moral obligation in which some secondary principle is 
not involved ; and if only one, there can seldom be 
any real doubt which one it is, in the mind of any 
person by whom the principle itself is recognised. 




rPHE question is often asked, and properly so, in 

* regard to any supposed moral standard What is 

its sanction ? what are the motives to obey it ? or 

more specifically, what is the source of its obligation ? 

whence does it derive its binding force? It is a 

necessary part of moral philosophy to provide the 

answer to this question; which, though frequently 

assuming the shape of an objection to the utilitarian 

morality, as if it had some special applicability to that 

above others, really arises in regard to all standards. 

It arises, in fact, whenever a person is called on to 

adopt a standard, or refer morality to any basis on 

which he has not been accustomed to rest it. For the 

customary morality, that which education and opinion 

have consecrated, is the only one which presents itself 

to the mind with the feeling of being in itself obli- 

gatory ; and when a person is asked to believe that 

this morality derives its obligation from some general 

principle round which custom has not thrown the 

same halo, the assertion is to him a paradox ; the 

supposed corollaries seem to have a more binding force 

than the original theorem ; the superstructure seems 

to stand better without, than with, what is represented 

as its foundation. He says to himself, I feel that I 


am bound not to rob or murder, betray or deceive ; 
but why am I bound to promote the general happi- 
ness ? If my own happiness lies in something else, 
why may I not give that the preference ? 

If the view adopted by the utilitarian philosophy 
of the nature of the moral sense be correct, this 
difficulty will always present itself, until the influences 
which form moral character have taken the same hold 
of the principle which they have taken of some of the 
consequences until, by the improvement of educa- 
tion, the feeling of unity with our fellow-creatures 
shall be (what it cannot be denied that Christ in- 
tended it to be) as deeply rooted in our character, and 
to our own consciousness as completely a part of our 
nature, as the horror of crime is in an ordinarily well 
brought up young person. In the mean time, how- 
ever, the difficulty has no peculiar application to the 
doctrine of utility, but is inherent in every attempt to 
analyse morality and reduce it to principles ; which, 
unless the principle is already in men's minds invested 
with as much sacredness as any of its applications, 
always seems to divest them of a part of their 

The principle of utility either has, or there is no 
reason why it might not have, all the sanctions which 
belong to any other system of morals. Those sanc- 
tions are either external or internal. Of the external 
sanctions it is not necessary to speak at any length. 
They are, the hope of favour and the fear of displea- 
sure from our fellow creatures or from the Huler of 
the Universe, along with whatever we may have of 
sympathy or affection for them, or of love and awe of 
Him, inclining us to do his will independently of 


selfish consequences. There is evidently no reason 
why all these motives for observance should not 
attach themselves to the utilitarian morality, as com- 
pletely and as powerfully as to any other. Indeed, 
those of them which refer to our fellow creatures are 
sure to do so, in proportion to the amount of general 
intelligence ; for whether there he any other ground 
of moral obligation than the general happiness or 
not, men do desire happiness ; and however imperfect 
may be their own practice, they desire and commend 
all conduct in others towards themselves, by which 
they think their happiness is promoted. With regard 
to the religious motive, if men believe, as most profess 
to do, in the goodness of God, those who think that 
conduciveness to the general happiness is the essence, 
or even only the criterion of good, must necessarily 
believe that it is also that which God approves. 
The whole force therefore of external reward and 
punishment, whether physical or moral, and whether 
proceeding from God or from our fellow men, together 
with all that the capacities of human nature admit, 
of disinterested devotion to either, become available to 
enforce the utilitarian morality, in proportion as that 
morality is recognized ; and the more powerfully, the 
more the appliances of education and general cultiva- 
tion are bent to the purpose. 

So far as to external sanctions. The internal sanc- 
tion of duty, whatever our standard of duty may be, 
is one and the same a feeling in our own mind ; a 
pain, more or less intense, attendant on violation of 
duty, which in properly cultivated moral natures rises, 
in the more serious cases, into shrinking from it as an 
impossibility. This feeling, when disinterested, and 


connecting itself with the pure idea of duty, and not 
with some particular form of it, or with any of the 
merely accessory circumstances, is the essence of Con- 
science; though in that complex phenomenon as it 
actually exists, the simple fact is in general all en- 
crusted over with collateral associations, derived from 
sympathy, from love, and still more from fear ; from 
all the forms of religious feeling from the recollec- 
tions of childhood and of all our past life ; from self- 
esteem, desire of the esteem of others, arid occasionally 
even self-abasement. This extreme complication is, I 
apprehend, the origin of the sort of mystical character 
which, by a tendency of the human mind of which 
there are many other examples, is apt to be attributed 
to the idea of moral obligation, and which leads people 
to believe that the idea cannot possibly attach itself 
to any other objects than those which, by a supposed 
mysterious law, are found in our present experience to 
excite it. Its binding force, however, consists in the 
existence of a mass of feeling which must be broken 
through in order to do what violates our standard of 
right, and which, if we do nevertheless violate that 
standard, will probably have to be encountered after- 
wards in the form of remorse. Whatever theory we 
have of the nature or origin of conscience, this is what 
essentially constitutes it. 

The ultimate sanction, therefore, of all morality 
(external motives apart) being a subjective feeling in 
our own minds, I see nothing embarrassing to those 
whose standard is utility, in the question, what is the 
sanction of that particular standard ? We may answer, 
the same as of all other moral standards the con- 
scientious feelings of mankind. Undoubtedly this 


sanction has no binding efficacy on those who do not 
possess the feelings it appeals to ; but neither will 
these persons be more obedient to any other moral 
principle than to the utilitarian one. On them 
morality of any kind has no hold but through the 
external sanctions. Meanwhile the feelings exist, a 
fact in human nature, the reality of which, and the 
great power with which they are capable of acting on 
those in whom they have been duly cultivated, are 
proved by experience. No reason has ever been 
shown why they may not be cultivated to as great in- 
tensity in connexion with the utilitarian, as with any 
other rule of morals. 

There is, I am aware, a disposition to believe that 
a person who sees in moral obligation a transcendental 
fact, an objective reality belonging to the province of 
' Things in themselves/ is likely to be more obedient 
to it than one who believes it to be entirely subjective, 
having its seat in human consciousness only. But 
whatever a person's opinion may be on this point of 
Ontology, the force he is really urged by is his own 
subjective feeling, and is exactly measured by its 
strength. No one's belief that Duty is an objective 
reality is stronger than the belief that God is so ; yet 
the belief in Grod, apart from the expectation of actual 
reward and punishment, only operates on conduct 
through, and in proportion to, the subjective religious 
feeling. The sanction, so far as it is disinterested, is 
always in the mind itself; and the notion therefore 
of the transcendental moralists must be, that this 
sanction will not exist in the mind unless it is believed 
to have its root out of the mind ; and that if a person 
is able to say to himself, This which is restraining me, 


and which is called my conscience, is only a feeling in 
my own mind, he may possibly draw the conclusion 
that when the feeling ceases the obligation ceases, and 
that if he find the feeling inconvenient, he may dis- 
regard it, and endeavour to get rid of it. But is this 
danger confined to the utilitarian morality? Does 
the belief that moral obligation has its seat outside 
the mind make the feeling of it too strong to be got 
rid of? The fact is so far otherwise, that all moralists 
admit and lament the ease with which, in the gene- 
rality of minds, conscience can be silenced or stifled. 
The question, Need I obey my conscience ? is quite 
as often put to themselves by persons who never heard 
of the principle of utility, as by its adherents. Those 
whose conscientious feelings are so weak as to allow 
of their asking this question, if they answer it affirma- 
tively, will not do so because they believe in the 
transcendental theory, but because of the external 

It is not necessary, for the present purpose, to decide 
whether the feeling of duty is innate or implanted. 
Assuming it to be innate, it is an open question to 
what objects it naturally attaches itself; for the 
philosophic supporters of that theory are now agreed 
that the intuitive perception is of principles of morality, 
and not of the details. If there be anything innate 
in the matter, I see no reason why the feeling which 
is innate should not be that of regard to the pleasures 
and pains of others. If there is any principle of morals 
which is intuitively obligatory, I should say it must 
be that. If so, the intuitive ethics would coincide 
with the utilitarian, and there would be no further 
quarrel between them. Even as it is, the intuitive 


moralists, though they believe that there are other 
intuitive moral obligations, do already believe this to 
be one ; for they unanimously hold that a large portion 
of morality turns upon the consideration due to the 
interests of our fellow creatures. Therefore, if the 
belief in the transcendental origin of moral obligation 
gives any additional efficacy to the internal sanction, 
it appears to me that the utilitarian principle has 
already the benefit of it. 

On the other hand, if, as is my own belief, the moral 
feelings are not innate, but acquired, they are not for 
that reason the less natural. It is natural to man to 
speak, to reason, to build cities, to cultivate the 
ground, though these are acquired faculties. The 
moral feelings are not indeed a part of our nature, in 
the sense of being in any perceptible degree present 
in all of us ; but this, unhappily, is a fact admitted 
by those who believe the most strenuously in their 
transcendental origin. Like the other acquired capa- 
cities above referred to, the moral faculty, if not a 
part of our nature, is a natural outgrowth from it; 
capable, like them, in a certain small degree, of spring- 
ing up spontaneously; and susceptible of being brought 
by cultivation to a high degree of development. 
Unhappily it is also susceptible, by a sufficient use of 
the external sanctions and of the force of early im- 
pressions, of being cultivated in almost any direction : 
so that there is hardly anything so absurd or so mis- 
chievous that it may not, by means of these influences, 
be made to act on the human mind with all the 
authority of conscience. To doubt that the same 
potency might be given by the same means to the 
principle of utility, even if it had no foundation in 


human nature, would be flying in the face of all 

But moral associations which are wholly of artificial 
creation, when intellectual culture goes on, yield by 
degrees to the dissolving force of analysis : and if the 
feeling of duty, when associated with utility, would 
appear equally arbitrary; if there were no leading 
department of our nature, no powerful class of senti- 
ments, with which that association would harmonize, 
which would make us feel it congenial, and incline us 
not only to foster it in others (for which we have 
abundant interested motives), but also to cherish it in 
ourselves ; if there were not, in short, a natural basis 
of sentiment for utilitarian morality, it might well 
happen that this association also, even after it had 
been implanted by education, might be analysed 

But there is this basis of powerful natural senti- 
ment ; and this it is which, when once the general 
happiness is recognised as the ethical standard, will 
constitute the strength of the utilitarian morality. 
This firm foundation is that of the social feelings of 
mankind ; the desire to be in unity with our fellow 
creatures, which is already a powerful principle in 
human nature, and happily one of those which tend 
to become stronger, even without express inculcation, 
from the influences of advancing civilization. The 
social state is at once so natural, so necessary, and so 
habitual to man, that, except in some unusual circum- 
stances or by an effort of voluntary abstraction, he 
never conceives himself otherwise than as a member 
of a body ; and this association is rivetted more and 
more, as mankind are further removed from the state 


of savage independence. Any condition, therefore, 
which is essential to a state of society, becomes more 
and more an inseparable part of every person's con- 
ception of the state of things which he is born into, 
and which is the destiny of a human being. Now, 
society between human beings, except in the relation 
of master and slave, is manifestly impossible on any 
other footing than that the interests of all are to be 
consulted. Society between equals can only exist on 
the understanding that the interests of all are to be 
regarded equally. And since in all states of civiliza- 
tion, every person, except an absolute monarch, has 
equals, every one is obliged to live on these terms 
with somebody; and in every age some advance is 
made towards a state in which it will be impossible to 
live permanently on other terms with anybody. In 
this way people grow up unable to conceive as possible 
to them a state of total disregard of other people's 
interests. They are under a necessity of conceiving 
themselves as at least abstaining from all the grosser 
injuries, and (if only for their own protection) living 
in a state of constant protest against them. They are 
also familiar with the fact of co-operating with others, 
and proposing to themselves a collective, not an indi- 
vidual interest as the aim (at least for the time being) 
of their actions. So long as they are co-operating, 
their ends are identified with those of others ; there 
is at least a temporary feeling that the interests of 
others are their own interests. Not only does all 
strengthening of social ties, and all healthy growth of 
society, give to each individual a stronger personal 
interest in practically consulting the welfare of others; 
it also leads him to identify his feelings more and more 


with their good, or at least with an ever greater 
degree of practical consideration for it. He comes, as 
though instinctively, to be conscious of himself as a 
being who of course pays regard to others. The good 
of others becomes to him a thing naturally and neces- 
sarily to be attended to, like any of the physical con- 
ditions of our existence. Now, whatever amount of 
this feeling a person has, he is urged by the strongest 
motives both of interest and of sympathy to demon- 
strate it, and to the utmost of his power encourage it 
in others ; and even if he has none of it himself, he is 
as greatly interested as any one else that others should 
have it. Consequently the smallest germs of the 
feeling are laid hold of and nourished by the contagion 
of sympathy and the influences of education; and a 
complete web of corroborative association is woven 
round it, by the powerful agency of the external 
sanctions. This mode of conceiving ourselves and 
human life, as civilization goes on, is felt to be more 
and more natural. Every step in political improve- 
ment renders it more so, by removing the sources of 
opposition of interest, and levelling those inequalities 
of legal privilege between individuals or classes, owing 
to which there are large portions of mankind whose 
happiness it is still practicable to disregard. In an 
improving state of the human mind, the influences are 
constantly on the increase, which tend to generate in 
each individual a feeling of unity with all the rest ; 
which, if perfect, would make him never think of, or 
desire, any beneficial condition for himself, in the 
benefits of which they are not included. If we now 
suppose this feeling of unity to be taught as a religion, 
and the whole force of education, of institutions, and 


of opinion, directed, as it once was in the case of 
religion, to make every person grow up from infancy 
surrounded on all sides both by the profession and 
the practice of it, I think that no one, who can realize 
this conception, will feel any misgiving about the 
sufficiency of the ultimate sanction for the Happiness 
morality. To any ethical student who finds the 
realization difficult, I recommend, as a means of 
facilitating it, the second of M. Comte's two principal 
works, the Traite de Politique Positive. I entertain 
the strongest objections to the system of politics and 
morals set forth in that treatise ; but I think it has 
superabundantly shown the possibility of giving to 
the service of humanity, even without the aid of belief 
in a Providence, both the psychological power and 
the social efficacy of a religion ; making it take hold 
of human life, and colour all thought, feeling, and 
action, in a manner of which the greatest ascendancy 
ever exercised by any religion may be but a type and 
foretaste ; and of which the danger is, not that it 
should be insufficient, but that it should be so exces- 
sive as to interfere unduly with human freedom and 

Neither is it necessary to the feeling which consti- 
tutes the binding force of the utilitarian morality on 
those who recognise it, to wait for those social influ- 
ences which would make its obligation felt by mankind 
at large. In the comparatively early state of human 
advancement in which we now live, a person cannot 
indeed feel that entireness of sympathy with all 
others, which would make any real discordance in the 
general direction of their conduct in life impossible ; 
but already a person in whom the social feeling is at 


all developed, cannot bring himself to think of the rest 
of his fellow creatures as struggling rivals with him 
for the means of happiness, whom he must desire to 
see defeated in their object in order that he may 
succeed in his. The deeply rooted conception which 
every individual even now has of himself as a social 
being, tends to make him feel it one of his natural 
wants that there should be harmony between his 
feelings and aims and those of his fellow creatures. 
If differences of opinion and of mental culture make 
it impossible for him to share many of their actual 
feelings perhaps make him denounce and defy those 
feelings he still needs to be conscious that his real 
aim and theirs do not conflict ; that he is not opposing 
himself to what they really wish for, namely their own 
good, but is, on the contrary, promoting it. This 
feeling in most individuals is much inferior in strength 
to their selfish feelings, and is often wanting alto- 
gether. But to those who have it, it possesses all the 
characters of a natural feeling. It does not present 
itself to their minds as a superstition of education, or 
a law despotically imposed by the power of society, 
but as an attribute which it would not be well for 
them to be without. This conviction is the ultimate 
sanction of the greatest happiness morality. This it 
is which makes any mind, of well developed feelings, 
work with, and not against, the outward motives to 
care for others, afforded by what I have called the ex- 
ternal sanctions ; and when those sanctions are 
wanting, or act in an opposite direction, constitutes 
in itself a powerful internal binding force, in propor- 
tion to the sensitiveness and thoughtfulness of the 



character ; since few but those whose mind is a moral 
blank, could bear to lay out their course of life on the 
plan of paying no regard to others except so far as 
their own private interest compels. 




IT has already been remarked, that questions of 
ultimate ends do not admit of proof, in the ordinary 
acceptation of the term. To be incapable of proof by 
reasoning is common to all first principles; to the 
first premises of our knowledge, as well as to those of 
our conduct. But the former, being matters of fact, 
may be the subject of a direct appeal to the faculties 
which judge of fact namely, our senses, and our in- 
ternal consciousness. Can an appeal be made to the 
same faculties on questions of practical ends ? Or by 
what other faculty is cognizance taken of them ? 

Questions about ends are, in other words, questions 
what things are desirable. The utilitarian doctrine 
is, that happiness is desirable, and the only thing de- 
sirable, as an end ; all other things being only desir- 
able as means to that end. What ought to be required 
of this doctrine what conditions is it requisite that 
the doctrine should fulfil to make good its claim to 
be believed? 

The only proof capable of being given that an object 
is visible, is that people actually see it. The only 
proof that a sound is audible, is that people hear it : 
and so of the other sources of our experience. In like 
manner, I apprehend, the sole evidence it is possible 



to produce that anything is desirable, is that people 
do actually desire it. If the end which the utilitarian 
doctrine proposes to itself were not, in theory and in 
practice, acknowledged to be an end, nothing could 
ever convince any person that it was so. No reason 
can be given why the general happiness is desirable, 
except that each person, so far as he believes it to be 
attainable, desires his own happiness. This, however, 
being a fact, we have not only all the proof which the 
case admits of, but all which it is possible to require, 
that happiness is a good : that each person's happiness 
is a good to that person, and the general happiness, 
therefore, a good to the aggregate of all persons. 
Happiness has made out its title as one of the ends of 
conduct, and consequently one of the criteria of 

But it has not, by this alone, proved itself to/ be the 
sole criterion. To do that, it would seem, by the 
same rule, necessary to show, not only that people 
desire happiness, but that they never desire anything 
else. Now it is palpable that they do desire things 
which, in common language, are decidedly distin- 
guished from happiness. They desire, for example, 
virtue, and the absence of vice, no less really than 
pleasure and the absence of pain. The desire of virtue 
is not as universal, but it is as authentic a fact, as the 
desire of happiness. And hence the opponents of the 
utilitarian standard deem that they have a right to 
infer that there are other ends of human action besides 
happiness, and that happiness is not the standard of 
approbation and disapprobation. 

But does the utilitarian doctrine deny that people 
desire virtue, or maintain that virtue is not a thing to 


be desired? The very reverse. It maintains not only 
that virtue is to be desired, but that it is to be desired 
disinterestedly, for itself. Whatever may be the 
opinion of utilitarian moralists as to the original con- 
ditions by which virtue is made virtue ; however they 
may believe (as they do) that actions and dispositions 
are only virtuous because they promote another end 
than virtue; yet this being granted, and it having 
been decided, from considerations of this description, 
what is virtuous, they not only place virtue at the very 
head of the things which are good as means to the 
ultimate end, but they also recognise as a psychologi- 
cal fact the possibility of its being, to the individual, 
a good in itself, without looking to any end beyond 
it ; and hold, that the mind is not in a right state, not 
in a state conformable to Utility, not in the state most 
conducive to the general happiness, unless it does love 
virtue in this manner as a thing desirable in itself, 
even although, in the individual instance, it should 
not produce those other desirable consequences which 
it tends to produce, and on account of which it is held 
to be virtue. This opinion is not, in the smallest 
degree, a departure from the Happiness principle. 
The ingredients of happiness are very various, and 
each of them is desirable in itself, and not merely 
when considered as swelling an aggregate. The prin- 
ciple of utility does not mean that any given pleasure, 
as music, for instance, or any given exemption from 
pain, as for example health, are to be looked upon as 
means to a collective something termed happiness, and 
to be desired on that account. They are desired and 
desirable in and for themselves ; besides being means, 
they are a part of the end. Yirtue, according to the 


utilitarian doctrine, is not naturally and originally 
part of the end, but it is capable of becoming so ; and 
in those who love it disinterestedly it has become so, 
and is desired and cherished, not as a means to happi- 
ness, but as a part of their happiness. 

To illustrate this farther, we may remember that 
virtue is not the only thing, originally a means, and 
which if it were not a means to anything else, would 
be and remain indifferent, but which by association 
with what it is a means to, comes to be desired for 
itself, and that too with the utmost intensity. What, 
for example, shall we say of the love of money ? There 
is nothing originally more desirable about money than 
about any heap of glittering pebbles. Its worth is 
solely that of the things which it will buy; the 
desires for other things than itself, which it is a means 
of gratifying. Yet the love of money is not only one 
of the strongest moving forces of human life, but 
money is, in many cases, desired in and for itself; the 
desire to possess it is often stronger than the desire to 
use it, and goes on increasing when all the desires 
which point to ends beyond it, to be compassed by 
it, are falling off. It may, then, be said truly, that 
money is desired not for the sake of an end, but as 
part of the end. From being a means to happiness, it 
has come to be itself a principal ingredient of the in- 
dividual's conception of happiness. The same may be 
said of the majority of the great objects of human life 
power, for example, or fame ; except that to each of 
these there is a certain amount of immediate pleasure 
annexed, which has at least the semblance of being 
naturally inherent in them ; a thing which cannot be 
said of money. Still, however, the strongest natural 


attraction, both of power and of fame, is the immense 
aid they give to the attainment of our other wishes ; 
and it is the strong association thus generated between 
them and all our objects of desire, which gives to the 
direct desire of them the intensity it often assumes, so 
as in some characters to surpass in strength all other 
desires, In these cases the means have become a part 
of the end, and a more important part of it than any 
of the things which they are means to. What was 
once desired as an instrument for the attainment of 
happiness, has come to be desired for its own sake. 
In being desired for its own sake it is, however, desired 
as part of happiness. The person is made, or thinks 
he would be made, happy by its mere possession ; and 
is made unhappy by failure to obtain it. The desire 
of it is not a different thing from the desire of happi- 
ness, any more than the love of music, or the desire of 
health. They are included in happiness. They are 
some of the elements of which the desire of happiness 
is made up. Happiness is not an abstract idea, but a 
concrete whole ; and these are some of its parts. And 
the utilitarian standard sanctions and approves their 
being so. Life would be a poor thing, very ill pro- 
vided with sources of happiness, if there were not this 
provision of nature, by which things originally indif- 
ferent, but conducive to, or otherwise associated with, 
the satisfaction of our primitive desires, become in 
themselves sources of pleasure more valuable than the 
primitive pleasures, both in permanency, in the space 
of human existence that they are capable of covering, 
and even in intensity. 

Virtue, according to the utilitarian conception, is a 
good of this description. There was no original desire 


of it, or motive to it, save its conduciveness to pleasure, 
and especially to protection from pain. But through 
the association thus formed, it may be felt a good in 
itself, and desired as such with as great intensity as 
any other good ; and with this difference between it 
and the love of money, of power, or of fame, that all 
of these may, and often do, render the individual 
noxious to the other members of the society to which 
he belongs, whereas there is nothing which makes him 
so much a blessing to them as the cultivation of the 
disinterested love of virtue. And consequently, the 
utilitarian standard, while it tolerates and approves 
those other acquired desires, up to the point beyond 
which they would be more injurious to the general 
happiness than promotive of it, enjoins and requires 
the cultivation of the love of virtue up to the greatest 
strength possible, as being above all things important 
to the general happiness. 

It results from the preceding considerations, that 
there is in reality nothing desired except happiness. 
Whatever is desired otherwise than as a means to 
some end beyond itself, and ultimately to happiness, 
is desired as itself a part of happiness, and is not 
desired for itself until it has become so. Those who 
desire virtue for its own sake, desire it either because 
the consciousness of it is a pleasure, or because the 
consciousness of being without it is a pain, or for both 
reasons united; as in truth the pleasure and pain 
seldom exist separately, but almost always together, 
the same person feeling pleasure in the degree of 
virtue attained, and pain in not having attained more. 
If one of these gave him no pleasure, and the other no 
pain, he would not love or desire virtue, or would 


desire it only for the other benefits which it might 
produce to himself or to persons whom he cared for. 

We have now, then, an answer to the question, of 
what sort of proof the principle of utility is suscep- 
tible. If the opinion which I have now stated is 
psychologically true if human nature is so consti- 
tuted as to desire nothing which is not either a part 
of happiness or a means of happiness, we can have no 
other proof, and we require no other, that these are 
the only things desirable. If so, happiness is the sole 
end of human action, and the promotion of it the test 
by which to judge of all human conduct ; from whence 
it necessarily follows that it must be the criterion of 
morality, since a part is included in the whole. 

And now to decide whether this is really so; 
whether mankind do desire nothing for itself but that 
which is a pleasure to them, or of which the absence is 
a pain ; we have evidently arrived at a question of 
fact and experience, dependent, like all similar ques- 
tions, upon evidence. It can only be determined 
by practised self-consciousness and self-observation, 
assisted by observation of others. I believe that these 
sources of evidence, impartially consulted, will declare 
that desiring a thing and finding it pleasant, aversion 
to it and thinking of it as painfu], are phenomena 
entirely inseparable, or rather two parts of the same 
phenomenon ; in strictness of language, two different 
modes of naming the same psychological fact : that 
to think of an object as desirable (unless for the sake 
of its consequences), and to think of it as pleasant, are 
one and the same thing ; and that to desire anything, 
except in proportion as the idea of it is pleasant, is a 
physical and metaphysical impossibility. 


So obvious does this appear to me, that I expect it 
will hardly be disputed: and the objection made will 
be, not that desire can possibly be directed to any- 
thing ultimately except pleasure and exemption from 
pain, but that the will is a different thing from desire ; 
that a person of confirmed virtue, or any other person 
whose purposes are fixed, carries out his purposes 
without any thought of the pleasure he has in con- 
templating them, or expects to derive from their ful- 
filment ; and persists in acting on them, even though 
these pleasures are much diminished, by changes in 
his character or decay of his passive sensibilities, or 
are outweighed by the pains which the pursuit of the 
purposes may bring upon him. All this I fully admit, 
and have stated it elsewhere, as positively and emphati- 
cally as any one. Will, the active phenomenon, is a dif- 
ferent thing from desire, the state of passive sensibility, 
and though originally an offshoot from it, may in time 
take root and detach itself from the parent stock ; so 
much so, that in the case of an habitual purpose, 
instead of willing the thing because we desire it, we 
often desire it only because we will it. This, how- 
ever, is but an instance of that familiar fact, the power 
of habit, and is nowise confined to the case of virtuous 
actions. Many indifferent things, which men ori- 
ginally did from a motive of some sort, they continue 
to do from habit. Sometimes this is done uncon- 
sciously, the consciousness coming only after the 
action : at other times with conscious volition, but 
volition which has become habitual, and is put in 
operation by the force of habit, in opposition perhaps 
to the deliberate preference, as often happens with 
those who have contracted habits of vicious or hurtful 


indulgence. Third and last comes the case in which 
the habitual act of will in the individual instance, 
is not in contradiction to the general intention pre- 
vailing at other times, but in fulfilment of it ; as in 
the case of the person of confirmed virtue, and of all 
who pursue deliberately and consistently any deter- 
minate end. The distinction between will and desire 
thus understood, is an authentic and highly important 
psychological fact ; but the fact consists solely in this 
that will, like all other parts of our constitution, is 
amenable to habit, and that we may will from habit 
what we no longer desire for itself, or desire only 
because we will it. It is not the less true that will, 
in the beginning, is entirely produced by desire ; in- 
cluding in that term the repelling influence of pain as 
well as the attractive one of pleasure. Let us take 
into consideration, no longer the person who has a 
confirmed will to do right, but him in whom that 
virtuous will is still feeble, conquerable by temptation, 
and not to be fully relied on ; by what means can it 
be strengthened ? How can the will to be virtuous, 
where it does not exist in sufficient force, be implanted 
or awakened ? Only by making the person desire 
virtue by making him think of it in a pleasurable 
light, or of its absence in a painful one. It is by associ- 
ating the doing right with pleasure, or the doing wrong 
with pain, or by eliciting and impressing and bringing 
home to the person's experience the pleasure naturally 
involved in the one or the pain in the other, that it is pos- 
sible to call forth that will to be virtuous, which, when 
confirmed, acts without any thought of either pleasure 
or pain. Will is the child of desire, and passes out of 
the dominion of its parent only to come under that of 


habit. That which is the result of habit affords no 
presumption of being intrinsically good; and there 
would be no reason for wishing that the purpose of 
virtue should become independent of pleasure and pain, 
were it not that the influence of the pleasurable and 
painful associations which prompt to virtue is not 
sufficiently to be depended on for unerring constancy of 
action until it has acquired the support of habit. 
Both in feeling and in conduct, habit is the only thing 
which imparts certainty; and it is because of the 
importance to others of being able to rely absolutely 
on one's feelings and conduct, and to oneself of being 
able to rely on one's own, that the will to do right 
ought to be cultivated into this habitual independence. 
In other words, this state of the will is a means to 
good, not intrinsically a good ; and does not contradict 
the doctrine that nothing is a good to human beings 
but in so far as it is either itself pleasurable, or a 
means of attaining pleasure or averting pain. 

But if this doctrine be true, the principle of utility 
is proved. Whether it is so or not, must now be left 
to the consideration of the thoughtful reader. 




IN all ages of speculation, one of the strongest 
obstacles to the reception of the doctrine that 
Utility or Happiness is the criterion of right and 
wrong, has been drawn from the idea of Justice. The 
powerful sentiment, and apparently clear perception, 
which that word recals with a rapidity and certainty 
resembling an instinct, have seemed to the majority 
of thinkers to point to an inherent quality in things ; 
to show that the Just must have an existence in Nature 
as something absolute, generically distinct from every 
variety of the Expedient, and, in idea, opposed to it, 
though (as is commonly acknowledged) never, in the 
long run, disjoined from it in fact. 

In the case of this, as of our other moral senti- 
ments, there is no necessary connexion between the 
question of its origin, and that of its binding force. 
That a feeling is bestowed on us by Nature, does not 
necessarily legitimate all its promptings. The feeling 
of justice might be a peculiar instinct, and might yet 
require, like our other instincts, to be controlled and 
enlightened by a higher reason. If we have intel- 
lectual instincts, leading us to judge in a particular 
way, as well as animal instincts that prompt us to act 
in a particular way, there is no necessity that the 
former should be more infallible in their sphere than 


the latter in theirs : it may as well happen that wrong 
judgments are occasionally suggested by those, as 
wrong actions by these. But though it is one thing 
to believe that we have natural feelings of justice, and 
another to acknowledge them as an ultimate criterion 
of conduct, these two opinions are very closely con- 
nected in point of fact. Mankind are always pre- 
disposed to believe that any subjective feeling, not 
otherwise accounted for, is a revelation of some ob- 
jective reality. Our present object is to determine 
whether the reality, to which the feeling of justice 
corresponds, is one which needs any such special reve- 
lation ; whether the justice or injustice of an action 
is a thing intrinsically peculiar, and distinct from all 
its other qualities, or only a combination of certain of 
those qualities, presented under a peculiar aspect. For 
the purpose of this inquiry it is practically important 
to consider, whether the feeling itself, of justice and 
injustice, is sui generis like our sensations of colour 
and taste, or a derivative feeling, formed by a com- 
bination of others. And this it is the more essential 
to examine, as people are in general willing enough 
to allow, that objectively the dictates of Justice coin- 
cide with a part of the field of General Expediency ; 
but inasmuch as the subjective mental feeling of 
Justice is different from that which commonly attaches 
to simple expediency, and, except in the extreme cases 
of the latter, is far more imperative in its demands, 
people find it difficult to see, in Justice, only a par- 
ticular kind or branch of general utility, and think 
that its superior binding force requires a totally dif- 
ferent origin. 

To throw light upon this question, it is necessary 


to attempt to ascertain what is the distinguishing 
character of justice, or of injustice : what is the 
quality, or whether there is any quality, attributed in 
common to all modes of conduct designated as unjust 
(for justice, like many other moral attributes, is best 
denned by its opposite), and distinguishing them from 
such modes of conduct as are disapproved, but without 
having that particular epithet of disapprobation applied 
to them. If in everything which men are accustomed 
to characterize as just or unjust, some one common 
attribute or collection of attributes is always present, 
we may judge whether this particular attribute or 
combination of attributes would be capable of gather- 
ing round it a sentiment of that peculiar character 
and intensity by virtue of the general laws of our 
emotional constitution, or whether the sentiment is 
inexplicable, and requires to be regarded as a special 
provision of Nature. If we find the former to be the 
case, we shall, in resolving this question, have resolved 
also the main problem : if the latter, we shall have to 
seek for some other mode of investigating it. 

To find the common attributes of a variety of 
objects, it is necessary to begin by surveying the 
objects themselves in the concrete. Let us therefore 
advert successively to the various modes of action, and 
arrangements of human affairs, which are classed, by 
universal or widely spread opinion, as Just or as Un- 
just. The things well known to excite the sentiments 
associated with those names, are of a very multifarious 
character. I shall pass them rapidly in review, with- 
out studying any particular arrangement. 

In the first place, it is mostly considered unjust to 


deprive any one of his personal liberty, his property, 
or any other thing which belongs to him by law. 
Here, therefore, is one instance of the application of 
the terms just and unjust in a perfectly definite sense, 
namely, that it is just to respect, unjust to violate, 
the legal rights of any one. But this judgment admits 
of several exceptions, arising from the other forms in 
which the notions of justice and injustice present 
themselves. For example, the person who suffers the 
deprivation may (as the phrase is) have forfeited the 
rights which he is so deprived of: a case to which we 
shall return presently. But also, 

Secondly ; the legal rights of which he is deprived, 
may be rights which ought not to have belonged to 
him ; in other words, the law which confers on him 
these rights, may be a bad law. When it is so, or 
when (which is the same thing for our purpose) it is 
supposed to be so, opinions will differ as to the justice 
or injustice of infringing it. Some maintain that no 
law, however bad, ought to be disobeyed by an indi- 
vidual citizen ; that his opposition to it, if shown at 
all, should only be shown in endeavouring to get it 
altered by competent authority. This opinion (which 
condemns many of the most illustrious benefactors of 
mankind, and would often protect pernicious institu- 
tions against the only weapons which, in the state of 
things existing at the time, have any chance of suc- 
ceeding against them) is defended, by those who hold 
it, on grounds of expediency ; principally on that of 
the importance, to the common interest of mankind, 
of maintaining inviolate the sentiment of submission 
to law. Other persons, again, hold the directly con- 
trary opinion, that any law, judged to be bad, may 


blamelessly be disobeyed, even though it be not 
judged to be unjust, but only inexpedient; while 
others would confine the licence of disobedience to the 
case of unjust laws : but again, some say, that all 
laws which are inexpedient are unjust; since every 
law imposes some restriction on the natural liberty of 
mankind, which restriction is an injustice, unless legi- 
timated by tending to their good. Among these 
diversities of opinion, it seems to be universally ad- 
mitted that there may be unjust laws, and that law, 
consequently, is not the ultimate criterion of justice, 
but may give to one person a benefit, or impose on 
another an evil, which justice condemns. When, how- 
ever, a law is thought to be unjust, it seems always 
to be regarded as being so in the same way in which a 
breach of law is unjust, namely, by infringing some- 
body's right ; which, as it cannot in this case be a 
legal right, receives a different appellation, and is 
called a moral right. We may say, therefore, that a 
second case of injustice consists in taking or with- 
holding from any person that to which he has a moral 

Thirdly, it is universally considered just that each 
person should obtain that (whether good or evil) 
which he deserves ; and unjust that he should obtain 
a good, or be made to undergo an evil, which he does 
not deserve. This is, perhaps, the clearest and most 
emphatic form in which the idea of justice is con- 
ceived by the general mind. As it involves the 
notion of desert, the question arises, what constitutes 
desert ? Speaking in a general way, a person is un- 
derstood to deserve good if he does right, evil if he 
does wrong ; and in a more particular sense, to de- 


serve good from those to whom he does or has done 
good, and evil from those to whom he does or has 
done evil. The precept of returning good for evil 
has never been regarded as a case of the fulfilment of 
justice, but as one in which the claims of justice are 
waved, in obedience to other considerations. 

Fourthly, it is confessedly unjust to break faith 
with any one : to violate an engagement, either ex- 
press or implied, or disappoint expectations raised by 
our own conduct, at least if we have raised those 
expectations knowingly and voluntarily. Like the 
other obligations of justice already spoken of, this one 
is not regarded as absolute, but as capable of being 
overruled by a stronger obligation of justice on the 
other side; or by such conduct on the part of the 
person concerned as is deemed to absolve us from our 
obligation to him, and to constitute & forfeiture of the 
benefit which he has been led to expect. 

Fifthly, it is, by universal admission, inconsistent 
with justice to be partial ; to show favour or pre- 
ference to one person over another, in matters to 
which favour and preference do not properly apply. 
Impartiality, however, does not seem to be regarded 
as a duty in itself, but rather as instrumental to some 
other duty ; for it is admitted that favour and pre- 
ference are not always censurable, and indeed the 
cases in which they are condemned are rather the ex- 
ception than the rule. A person would be more likely 
to be blamed than applauded for giving his family or 
friends no superiority in good offices over strangers, 
when he could do so without violating any other 
duty ; and no one thinks it unjust to seek one person 
in preference to another as a friend, connexion, or 


companion. Impartiality where rights are concerned, 
is of course obligatory, but this is involved in the 
more general obligation of giving to every one his 
right. A tribunal, for example, must be impartial, 
because it is bound to award, without regard to any 
other consideration, a disputed object to the one of 
two parties who has the right to it. There are other 
cases in which impartiality means, being solely in- 
fluenced by desert ; as with those who, in the capacity 
of judges, preceptors, or parents, administer reward 
and punishment as such. There are cases, again, in 
which it means, being solely influenced by considera- 
tion for the public interest ; as in making a selection 
among candidates for a government employment. 
Impartiality, in short, as an obligation of justice, may 
be said to mean, being exclusively influenced by the 
considerations which it is supposed ought to influence 
the particular case in hand ; and resisting the solici- 
tation of any motives which prompt to conduct diffe- 
rent from what those considerations would dictate. 

Nearly allied to the idea of impartiality, is that of 
equality ; which often enters as a component part both 
into the conception of justice and into the practice of 
it, and, in the eyes of many persons, constitutes its 
essence. But in this, still more than in any other 
case, the notion of justice varies in different persons, 
and always conforms in its variations to their notion 
of utility. Each person maintains that equality is 
the dictate of justice, except where he thinks that 
expediency requires inequality. The justice of giving 
equal protection to the rights of all, is maintained by 
those who support the most outrageous inequality in 
the rights themselves. Even in slave countries it is 

IP 2 


theoretically admitted that the rights of the slave, 
such as they are, ought to be as sacred as those of 
the master ; and that a tribunal which fails to enforce 
them with equal strictness is wanting in justice ; 
while, at the same time, institutions which leave to 
the slave scarcely any rights to enforce, are not 
deemed unjust, because they are not deemed inexpe- 
dient. Those who think that utility requires distinc- 
tions of rank, do not consider it unjust that riches 
and social privileges should be unequally dispensed ; 
but those who think this inequality inexpedient, 
think it unjust also. Whoever thinks that govern- 
ment is necessary, sees no injustice in as much in- 
equality as is constituted by giving to the magistrate 
powers not granted to other people. Even among 
those who hold levelling doctrines, there are as many 
questions of justice as there are differences 01* opinion 
about expediency. Some Communists consider it un- 
just that the produce of the labour of the community 
should be shared on any other principle than that of 
exact equality ; others think it just that those should 
receive most whose wants are greatest ; while others 
hold that those who work harder, or who produce 
more, or whose services are more valuable to the com- 
munity, may justly claim a larger quota in the divi- 
sion of the produce. And the sense of natural justice 
may be plausibly appealed to in behalf of every one 
of these opinions. 

Among so many diverse applications of the term 
Justice, which yet is not regarded as ambiguous, it is 
a matter of some difficulty to seize the mental link 
which holds them together, and on which the moral 
sentiment adhering to the term essentially depends. 


Perhaps, in this embarrassment, some help may be 
derived from the history of the word, as indicated by 
its etymology. 

In most, if not in all, languages, the etymology of 
the word which corresponds to Just, points distinctly 
to an origin connected with the ordinances of law. 
JustumiB a form of jmsum, that which has been ordered. 
A//catoi/ comes directly from Si/cr?, a suit at law. RecJit, 
from which came rigid and righteous, is synonymous 
with law. The courts of justice, the administration 
of justice, are the courts and the administration of 
law. La justice, in French, is the established term for 
judicature. I am not committing the fallacy imputed 
with some show of truth to Home Tooke, of assuming 
that a word must still continue to mean what it 
originally meant. Etymology is slight evidence of 
what the idea now signified is, but the very best 
evidence of how it sprang up. There can, I think, be 
no doubt that the idee mere, the primitive element, in 
the formation of the notion of justice, was conformity 
to law. It constituted the entire idea among the 
Hebrews, up to the birth of Christianity ; as might be 
expected in the case of a people whose laws attempted 
to embrace all subjects on which precepts were re- 
quired, and who believed those laws to be a direct 
emanation from the Supreme Eeing. But other 
nations, and in particular the Greeks and Eomans, 
who knew that their laws had been made originally, 
and still continued to be made, by men, were not 
afraid to admit that those men might make bad laws; 
might do, by law, the same things, and from the same 
motives, which if done by individuals without the 
sanction of law, would be called unjust. And hence 


the sentiment of injustice came to be attached, not to 
all violations of law, but only to violations of such 
laws as ought to exist, including such as ought to exist, 
but do not ; and to laws themselves, if supposed to be 
contrary to what ought to be law. In this manner the 
idea of law and of its injunctions was still predominant 
in the notion of justice, even when the laws actually in 
force ceased to be accepted as the standard of it. 

It is true that mankind consider the idea of justice 
and its obligations as applicable to many things which 
neither are, nor is it desired that they should be, 
regulated by law. Nobody desires that laws should 
interfere with the whole detail of private life ; yet 
every one allows that in all daily conduct a person 
may and does show himself to be either just or unjust. 
But even here, the idea of the breach of what ought 
to be law, still lingers in a modified shape. It would 
always give us pleasure, and chime in with our feel- 
ings of fitness, that acts which we deem unjust should 
be punished, though we do not always think it expe- 
dient that this should be done by the tribunals. We 
forego that gratification on account of incidental in- 
conveniences. We should be glad to see just conduct 
enforced and injustice repressed, even in the minutest 
details, if we were not, with reason, afraid of trusting 
the magistrate with so unlimited an amount of power 
over individuals. When we think that a person is 
bound in justice to do a thing, it is an ordinary form 
of language to say, that he ought to be compelled to 
do it. We should be gratified to see the obligation 
enforced by anybody who had the power. If we see 
that its enforcement by law would be inexpedient, we 
lament the impossibility, we consider the impunity 


given to injustice as an evil, and strive to make amends 
for it by bringing a strong expression of our own and 
the public disapprobation to bear upon the offender. 
Thus the idea of legal constraint is still the generating 
idea of the notion of justice, though undergoing several 
transformations before that notion, as it exists in an 
advanced state of society, becomes complete. 

The above is, I think, a true account, as far as it 
goes, of the origin and progressive growth of the idea 
of justice. But we must observe, that it contains, as 
yet, nothing to distinguish that obligation from moral 
obligation in general. For the truth is, that the idea 
of penal sanction, which is the essence of law, enters 
not only into the conception of injustice, but into that 
of any kind of wrong. We do not call anything 
wrong, unless we mean to imply that a person ought 
to be punished in some way or other for doing it ; if 
not by law, by the opinion of his fellow creatures ; if 
not by opinion, by the reproaches of his own con- 
science. This seems the real turning point of the dis- 
tinction between morality and simple expediency. It 
is a part of the notion of Duty in every one of its 
forms, that a person may rightfully be compelled to 
fulfil it. Duty is a thing which may be exacted from 
a person, as one exacts a debt. Unless we think that 
it may be exacted from him, we do not call it his 
duty. Reasons of prudence, or the interest of other 
people, may militate against actually exacting it ; but 
the person himself, it is clearly understood, would not 
be entitled to complain. There are other things, on 
the contrary, which we wish that people should do, 
which we like or admire them for doing, perhaps dis- 
like or despise them for not doing, but yet admit that 


they are not bound to do ; it is not a case of moral 
obligation ; we do not blame them, that is, we do not 
think that they are proper objects of punishment. 
How we come by these ideas of deserving and not 
deserving punishment, will appear, perhaps, in the 
sequel ; but I think there is no doubt that this dis- 
tinction lies at the bottom of the notions of right 
and wrong; that we call any conduct wrong, or 
employ, instead, some other term of dislike or dispar- 
agement, according as we think that the person ought, 
or ought not, to be punished for it ; and we say, it 
would be right to do so and so, or merely that it 
would be desirable or laudable, according as we would 
wish to see the person whom it concerns, compelled, 
or only persuaded and exhorted, to act in that 


This, therefore, being the characteristic difference 
which marks off, not justice, but morality in general, 
from the remaining provinces of Expediency and 
Worthiness ; the character is still to be sought which 
distinguishes justice from other branches of morality. 
Now it is known that ethical writers divide moral 
duties into two classes, denoted by the ill-chosen ex- 
pressions, duties of perfect and of imperfect obliga- 
tion ; the latter being those in which, though the act 
is obligatory, the particular occasions of performing it 
are left to our choice ; as in the case of charity or 
beneficence, which we are indeed bound to practise, 
but not towards any definite person, nor at any pre- 

* See this point enforced and illustrated by Professor Bain, in an ad- 
mirable chapter (entitled ' The Ethical Emotions, or the Moral Sense'), 
of the second of the two treatises composing his elaborate and profound 
work on the Mind. 


scribed time. In the more precise language of philo- 
sophic jurists, duties of perfect obligation are those 
duties in virtue of which a correlative right resides in 
some person or persons ; duties of imperfect obligation 
are those moral obligations which do not give birth to 
any right. I think it will be found that this distinc- 
tion exactly coincides with that which exists between 
justice and the other obligations of morality. In our 
survey of the various popular acceptations of justice, 
the term appeared generally to involve the idea of a 
personal right a claim on the part of one or more 
individuals, like that which the law gives when it 
confers a proprietary or other legal right. Whether 
the injustice consists in depriving a person of a pos- 
session, or in breaking faith with him, or in treating 
him worse than he deserves, or worse than other people 
who have no greater claims, in each case the supposi- 
tion implies two things a wrong done, and some 
assignable person who is wronged. Injustice may 
also be done by treating a person better than others ; 
but the wrong in this case is to his competitors, who 
are also assignable persons. It seems to me that this 
feature in the case a right in some person, correlative 
to the moral obligation constitutes the specific ^dif- 
ference between justice, and generosity or beneficence. 
Justice implies something which it is not only right 
to do, and wrong not to do, but which some individual 
person can claim from us as his moral right. No one 
has a moral right to our generosity or beneficence, 
because we are not morally bound to practise those 
virtues towards any given individual. And it will be 
found with respect to this as to every correct defini- 
tion, that the instances which seem to conflict with it are 


those which most confirm it. For if a moralist attempts, 
as some have done, to make out that mankind gene- 
rally, though not any given individual, have a right 
to all the good we can do them, he at once, by that 
thesis, includes generosity and beneficence within the 
category of justice. He is obliged to say, that our 
utmost exertions are due to our fellow creatures, thus 
assimilating them to a debt ; or that nothing less can 
be a sufficient return for what society does for us, thus 
classing the case as one of gratitude ; both of which 
are acknowledged cases of justice. Wherever there is 
a right, the case is one of justice, and not of the virtue 
of beneficence : and whoever does not place the distinc- 
tion between justice and morality in general, where 
we have now placed it, will be found to make no dis- 
tinction between them at all, but to merge all moral- 
ity in justice. / 

Having thus endeavoured to determine the distinc- 
tive elements which enter into the composition of the 
idea of justice, we are ready to enter on the inquiry, 
whether the feeling, which accompanies the idea, is 
attached to it by a special dispensation of nature, or 
whether it could have grown up, by any known laws, 
out of the idea itself; and in particular, whether it 
can have originated in considerations of general ex- 

I conceive that the sentiment itself does not arise 
from anything which would commonly, or correctly, 
be termed an idea of expediency ; but that though 
the sentiment does not, whatever is moral in it does. 

We have seen that the two essential ingredients in 
the sentiment of justice are, the desire to punish a 


person who has done harm, and the knowledge or 
belief that there is some definite individual or indi- 
viduals to whom harm has been done. 

Now it appears to me, that the desire to punish a 
person who has done harm to some individual, is a 
spontaneous outgrowth from two sentiments, both in 
the highest degree natural, and which either are or 
resemble instincts; the impulse of self-defence, and 
the feeling of sympathy. 

It is natural to resent, and to repel or retaliate, any 
harm done or attempted against ourselves, or against 
those with whom we sympathize. The origin of this 
sentiment it is not necessary here to discuss. Whether 
it be an instinct or a result of intelligence, it is, we 
know, common to all animal nature ; for every animal 
tries to hurt those who have hurt, or who it thinks are 
about to hurt, itself or its young. Human beings, on. 
this point, only differ from other animals in two par- 
ticulars. First, in being capable of sympathizing, not 
solely with their offspring, or, like some of the more 
noble animals, with some superior animal who is kind 
to them, but with all human, and even with all 
sentient, beings. Secondly, in having a more de- 
veloped intelligence, which gives a wider range to 
the whole of their sentiments, whether self-regarding 
or sympathetic. By virtue of his superior intelligence, 
even apart from his superior range of sympathy, 
a human being is capable of apprehending a com- 
munity of interest between himself and the human 
society of which he forms a part, such that any con- 
duct which threatens the security of the society 
generally, is threatening to his own, and calls forth 
his instinct (if instinct it be) of self-defence. The 


same superiority of intelligence, joined to the power 
of sympathizing with human beings generally, enables 
him to attach himself to the collective idea of his 
tribe, his country, or mankind, in such a manner that 
any act hurtful to them, raises his instinct of sym- 
pathy, and urges him to resistance. 

The sentiment of justice, in that one of its elements 
which consists of the desire to punish, is thus, I con- 
ceive, the natural feeling of retaliation or vengeance, 
rendered by intellect and sympathy applicable to those 
injuries, that is, to those hurts, which wound us 
through, or in common with, society at large. This 
sentiment, in itself, has nothing moral in it ; what is 
moral is, the exclusive subordination of it to the 
social sympathies, so as to wait on and obey their call. 
For the natural feeling would make us resent indis- 
criminately whatever any one does that is disagreeable 
to us ; but when moralized by the social feeling, it 
only acts in the directions conformable to the general 
good : just persons resenting a hurt to society, though 
not otherwise a hurt to themselves, and not resenting 
a hurt to themselves, however painful, unless it be of 
the kind which society has a common interest with 
them in the repression of. 

It is no objection against this doctrine to say, that 
when we feel our sentiment of justice outraged, w r e 
are not thinking of society at large, or of any collec- 
tive interest, but only of the individual case. It is 
common enough certainly, though the reverse of com- 
mendable, to feel resentment merely because we have 
suffered pain ; but a person whose resentment is really 
a moral feeling, that is, who considers whether an act 
is blameable before he allows himself to resent it 


such a person, though, he may not say expressly to 
himself that he is standing up for the interest of 
society, certainly does feel that he is asserting a rule 
which is for the benefit of others as well as for his 
own. If he is not feeling this if he is regarding the 
act solely as it affects him individually he is not 
consciously just ; he is not concerning himself about 
the justice of his actions. This is admitted even by 
anti-utilitarian moralists. When Kant (as before 
remarked) propounds as the fundamental principle of 
morals, ' So act, that thy rule of conduct might be 
adopted as a law by all rational beings/ he virtually 
acknowledges that the interest of mankind collec- 
tively, or at least of mankind indiscriminately, must 
be in the mind of the agent when conscientiously 
deciding on the morality of the act. Otherwise he 
uses words without a meaning : for, that a rule even 
of utter selfishness could not possibly be adopted by 
all rational beings that there is any insuperable 
obstacle in the nature of things to its adoption can- 
not be even plausibly maintained. To give any 
meaning to Kant's principle, the sense put upon it 
must be, that we ought to shape our conduct by a 
rule which all rational beings might adopt with benefit 
to their collective interest. 

To recapitulate : the idea of justice supposes two 
things ; a rule of conduct, and a sentiment which 
sanctions the rule. The first must be supposed com- 
mon to all mankind, and intended for their good. 
The other (the sentiment) is a desire that punishment 
may be suffered by those who infringe the rule. There 
is involved, in addition, the conception of some de- 
finite person who suffers by the infringement ; whose 


rights (to use the expression appropriated to the case) 
are violated by it. And the sentiment of justice 
appears to me to be, the animal desire to repel or 
retaliate a hurt or damage to oneself, or to those with 
whom one sympathizes, widened so as to include all 
persons, by the human capacity of enlarged sympathy, 
and the human conception of intelligent self-interest. 
Prom the latter elements, the feeling derives its 
morality ; from the former, its peculiar impressive- 
ness, and energy of self-assertion. 

I have, throughout, treated the idea of a rigid re- 
siding in the injured person, and violated by the 
injury, not as a separate element in the composition 
of the idea and sentiment, but as one of the forms in 
which the other two elements clothe themselves. 
These elements are, a hurt to some assignable person 
or persons on the one hand, and a demand /for punish- 
ment on the other. An examination of our own 
minds, I think, will show, that these two things 
include all that we mean when we speak of violation 
of a right. When we call anything a person's right, 
we mean that he has a valid claim on society to pro- 
tect him in the possession of it, either by the force 
of law, or by that of education and opinion. If 
lie has what we consider a sufficient claim, on 
whatever account, to have something guaranteed to 
him by society, we say that he has a right to it. If 
we desire to prove that anything does not belong to 
him by right, we think this done as soon as it is ad- 
mitted that society ought not to take measures for 
securing it to him, but should leave him to chance, or 
to his own exertions. Thus, a person is said to have 
a right to what he can earn in fair professional com- 


petition ; because society ought not to allow any other 
person to hinder him from endeavouring to earn in 
that manner as much as he can. But he has not a 
right to three hundred a-year, though he may happen 
to be earning it ; because society is not called on to 
provide that he shall earn that sum. On the contrary, 
if he owns ten thousand pounds three per cent, stock, 
he has a right to three hundred a-year; because 
society has come under an obligation to provide him 
with an income of that amount. 

To have a right, then, is, I conceive, to have some- 
thing which society ought to defend me in the 
possession of. If the objector goes on to ask, why it 
ought ? I can give him no other reason than general 
utility. If that expression does not seem to convey a 
sufficient feeling of the strength of the obligatioo, nor 
to account for the peculiar energy of the feeling, 
it is because there goes to the composition of the 
sentiment, not a rational only but also an animal 
element, the thirst for retaliation; and this thirst 
derives its intensity, as well as its moral justifica- 
tion, from the extraordinarily important and im- 
pressive kind of utility which is concerned. The in- 
terest involved is that of security, to every one's 
feelings the most vital of all interests. All other 
earthly benefits are needed by one person, not needed 
by another ; and many of them can, if necessary, be 
cheerfully foregone, or replaced by something else; 
but security no human being can possibly do without ; 
on it we depend for all our immunity from evil, and 
for the whole value of all and every good, beyond the 
passing moment ; since nothing but the gratification 
of the instant could be of any worth to us, if we could 


be deprived of everything the next instant by whoever 
was momentarily stronger than ourselves. Now this 
most indispensable of all necessaries, after physical 
nutriment, cannot be had, unless the machinery for 
providing it is kept unintermittedly in active play. 
Our notion, therefore, of the claim we have on our 
fellow creatures to join in making safe for us the very 
groundwork of our existence, gathers feelings around 
it so much more intense than those concerned in any 
of the more common cases of utility, that the dif- 
ference in degree (as is often the case in psychology) 
becomes a real difference in kind. The claim assumes 
that character of absoluteness, that apparent infinity, 
and incommensurability with all other considerations, 
which constitute the distinction between the feeling of 
right and wrong and that of ordinary expediency and 
inexpediency. The feelings concerned are /so power- 
ful, and we count so positively on finding a responsive 
feeling in others (all being alike interested), that ought 
and should grow into must, and recognized in dispensa- 
bility becomes a moral necessity, analogous to physi- 
cal, and often not inferior to it in binding force. 

If the preceding analysis, or something resembling 
it, be not the correct account of the notion of justice; 
if justice be totally independent of utility, and be a 
standard per se, which the mind can recognize by 
simple introspection of itself; it is hard to understand 
why that internal oracle is so ambiguous, and why so 
many things appear either just or unjust, according to 
the light in which they are regarded. 

We are continually informed that Utility is an un- 
certain standard, which every different person inter- 


prets differently, and that there is no safety but in 
the immutable, ineffaceable, and unmistakeable dic- 
tates of Justice, which carry their evidence in them- 
selves, and are independent of the fluctuations of 
opinion. One would suppose from this that on ques- 
tions of justice there could be no controversy ; that if 
we take that for our rule, its application to any given 
case could leave us in as little doubt as a mathemati- 
cal demonstration. So far is this from being the fact, 
that there is as much difference of opinion, and as 
much discussion, about what is just, as about what is 
useful to society. Not only have different nations 
and individuals different notions of justice, but in the 
mind of one and the same individual, justice is not 
some one rule, principle, or maxim, but many, which 
do not always coincide in their dictates, and in choos- 
ing between which, he is guided either by some 
extraneous standard, or by his own personal pre- 

For instance, there are some who say, that it is 
unjust to punish any one for the sake of example to 
others ; that punishment is just, only when intended 
for the good of the sufferer himself. Others maintain 
the extreme reverse, contending that to punish persons 
who have attained years of discretion, for their own 
benefit, is despotism and injustice, since if the matter 
at issue is solely their own good, no one has a right 
to control their own judgment of it ; but that they 
may justly be punished to prevent evil to others, this 
being the exercise of the legitimate right of self- 
defence. Mr. Owen, again, affirms that it is unjust 
to punish at all ; for the criminal did not make his 
own character ; his education, and the circumstances 


which surrounded him, have made him a criminal, 
and for these he is not responsible. All these opinions 
are extremely plausible ; and so long as the question 
is argued as one of justice simply, without going down 
to the principles which lie under justice and are the 
source of its authority, I am unable to see how any of 
these reasoners can be refuted. For in truth every 
one of the three builds upon rules of justice con- 
fessedly true. The first appeals to the acknowledged 
injustice of singling out an individual, and making 
him a sacrifice, without his consent, for other people's 
benefit. The second relies on the acknowledged 
justice of self-defence, and the admitted injustice of 
forcing one person to conform to another's notions of 
what constitutes his good. The Owenite invokes the 
admitted principle, that it is unjust to punish any one 
for what he cannot help. Each is triumphant so long 
as he is not compelled to take into consideration any 
other maxims of justice than the one he has selected ; 
but as soon as their several maxims are brought face 
to face, each disputant seems to have exactly as much 
to say for himself as the others. No one of them can 
carry out his own notion of justice without trampling 
upon another equally binding. These are difficulties ; 
they have always been felt to be such ; and many de- 
vices have been invented to turn rather than to over- 
come them. As a refuge from the last of the three, 
men imagined what they called the freedom of the 
will ; fancying that they could not justify punishing 
a man whose will is in a thoroughly hateful state, 
unless it be supposed to have come into that state 
through no influence of anterior circumstances. To 
escape from the other difficulties, a favourite contri- 


vance has been the fiction of a contract, whereby at 
some unknown period all the members of society 
engaged to obey the laws, and consented to be 
punished for any disobedience to them; thereby 
giving to their legislators the right, which it is 
assumed they would not otherwise have had, of 
punishing them, either for their own good or for that 
of society. This happy thought was considered to 
get rid of the whole difficulty, and to legitimate the 
infliction of punishment, in virtue of another received 
maxim of justice, Volenti non Jit injuria ; that is not 
unjust which is done with the consent of the person 
who is supposed to be hurt by it. I need hardly 
remark, that even if the consent were not a mere 
fiction, this maxim is not superior in authority to the 
others which it is brought in to supersede. It is, on 
the contrary, an instructive specimen of the loose and 
irregular manner in which supposed principles of 
justice grow up. This particular one evidently came 
into use as a help to the coarse exigencies of courts of 
law, which are sometimes obliged to be content with 
very uncertain presumptions, on account of the greater 
evils which would often arise from any attempt on 
their part to cut finer. But even courts of law are 
not able to adhere consistently to the maxim, for they 
allow voluntary engagements to be set aside on the 
ground of fraud, and sometimes on that of mere mis- 
take or misinformation. 

Again, when the legitimacy of inflicting punish- 
ment is admitted, how many conflicting conceptions 
of justice come to light in discussing the proper ap- 
portionment of punishments to offences. No rule on 
the subject recommends itself so strongly to the 



primitive and spontaneous sentiment of justice, as the 
lex talionis, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. 
Though this principle of the Jewish and of the 
Mahomedan law has heen generally abandoned in 
Europe as a practical maxim, there is, I suspect, in 
most minds, a secret hankering after it ; and when re- 
tribution accidentally falls on an offender in that 
precise shape, the general feeling of satisfaction 
evinced, bears witness how natural is the sentiment to 
which this repayment in kind is acceptable. With 
many, the test of justice in penal infliction is that the 
punishment should be proportioned to the offence ; 
meaning that it should be exactly measured by the 
moral guilt of the culprit (whatever be their standard 
for measuring moral guilt) : the consideration, what 
amount of punishment is necessary to deter from the 
offence, having nothing to do with the question of 
justice, in their estimation : while there are others to 
whom that consideration is all in all ; who maintain 
that it is not just, at least for man, to inflict on a 
fellow-creature, whatever may be his offences, any 
amount of suffering beyond the least that will suffice 
to prevent him from repeating, and others from imi- 
tating, his misconduct. 

To take another example from a subject already 
once referred to. In a co-operative industrial asso- 
ciation, is it just or not that talent or skill should give 
a title to superior remuneration ? On the negative 
side of the question it is argued, that whoever does 
the best he can, deserves equally well, and ought not 
in justice to be put in a position of inferiority for no 
fault of his own ; that superior abilities have already 
advantages more than enough, in the admiration they 


excite, the personal influence they command, and the 
internal sources of satisfaction attending them, with- 
out adding to these a superior share of the world's 
goods ; and that society is bound in justice rather to 
make compensation to the less favoured, for this un- 
merited inequality of advantages, than to aggravate 
it. On the contrary side it is contended, that 
society receives more from the more efficient labourer ; 
that his services being more useful, society owes him 
a larger return for them ; that a greater share of the 
joint result is actually his work, and not to allow his 
claim to it is a kind of robbery ; that if he is only to 
receive as much as others, he can only be justly re- 
quired to produce as much, and to give a smaller 
amount of time and exertion, proportioned to his 
superior efficiency. Who shall decide between these 
appeals to conflicting principles of justice? Justice 
has in this case two sides to it, which it is impossible 
to bring into harmony, and the two disputants have 
chosen opposite sides; the one looks to what it is just 
that the individual should receive, the other to what 
it is just that the community should give. Each, 
from his own point of view, is unanswerable ; and 
any choice between them, on grounds of justice, must 
be perfectly arbitrary. Social utility alone can decide 
the preference. 

How many, again, and how irreconcileable, are the 
standards of justice to which reference is made in dis- 
cussing the repartition of taxation. One opinion is, 
that payment to the State should be in numerical 
proportion to pecuniary means. Others think that 
justice dictates what they term graduated taxation ; 
taking a higher per-centage from those who have more 


to spare. In point of natural justice a strong case 
might be made for disregarding means altogether, and 
taking the same absolute sum (whenever it could be 
got) from every one : as the subscribers to a mess, or to 
a club, all pay the same sum for the same privileges, 
whether they can all equally afford it or not. Since 
the protection (it might be said) of law and govern- 
ment is afforded to, and is equally required by all, 
there is no injustice in making all buy it at the same 
price. It is reckoned justice, not injustice, that a 
dealer should charge to all customers the same price 
for the same article, not a price varying according to 
their means of payment. This doctrine, as applied 
to taxation, finds no advocates, because it conflicts so 
strongly with man's feelings of humanity and of social 
expediency ; but the principle of justice which it in- 
vokes is as true and as binding as those whicli can be 
appealed to against it. Accordingly it exerts a tacit 
influence on the line of defence employed for other 
modes of assessing taxation. People feel obliged to 
argue that the State does more for the rich than for 
the poor, as a justification for its taking more from 
them : though this is in reality not true, for the rich 
would be far better able to protect themselves, in the 
absence of law or government, than the poor, and 
indeed would probably be successful in converting the 
poor into their slaves. Others, again, so far defer to 
the same conception of justice, as to maintain that all 
should pay an equal capitation tax for the protection 
of their persons (these being of equal value to all), 
and an unequal tax for the protection of their pro- 
perty, which is unequal. To this others reply, that 
the all of one man is as valuable to him as the all of 


another. From these confusions there is no other 
mode of extrication than the utilitarian. 

Is, then, the difference between the Just and the 
Expedient a merely imaginary distinction? Have 
mankind been under a delusion in thinking that 
justice is a more sacred thing than policy, and that 
the latter ought only to be listened to after the former 
has been satisfied? By no means. The exposition 
we have given of the nature and origin of the senti- 
ment, recognizes a real distinction ; and no one of 
those w T ho profess the most sublime contempt for the 
consequences of actions as an element in their morality, 
attaches more importance to the distinction than I do. 
"While I dispute the pretensions of any theory which 
sets up an imaginary standard of justice not grounded 
on utility, I account the justice which is grounded on 
utility to be the chief part, and incomparably the 
most sacred and binding part, of all morality. Jus- 
tice is a name for certain classes of moral rules, which 
concern the essentials of human well-being more 
nearly, and are therefore of more absolute obligation, 
than any other rules for the guidance of life ; and the 
notion which we have found to be of the essence of 
the idea of justice, that of a right residing in an indi- 
vidual, implies and testifies to this more binding 

The moral rules which forbid mankind to hurt one 
another (in which we must never forget to include 
wrongful interference with each other's freedom) are 
more vital to human well-being than any maxims, 
however important, which only point out the best 
mode of managing some department of human affairs. 


They have also the peculiarity, that they are the 
main element in determining the whole of the social 
feelings of mankind. It is their observance which 
alone preserves peace among human beings : if obe- 
dience to them were not the rule, and disobedience 
the exception, every one would see in every one else 
an enemy, against whom he must be perpetually 
guarding himself. What is hardly less important, 
these are the precepts which mankind have the 
strongest and the most direct inducements for im- 
pressing upon one another. By merely giving to 
each other prudential instruction or exhortation, they 
may gain, or think they gain, nothing : in inculcating 
on each other the duty of positive beneficence they 
have an unmistakeable interest, but far less in degree : 
a person may possibly not need the benefits of others ; 
but he always needs that they should not ^do him 
hurt. Thus the moralities which protect every indi- 
vidual from being harmed by others, either directly 
or by being hindered in his freedom of pursuing his 
own good, are at once those which he himself has 
most at heart, and those which he has the strongest 
interest in publishing and enforcing by word and 
deed. It is by a person's observance of these, that his 
fitness to exist as one of the fellowship of human 
beings, is tested and decided ; for on that depends his 
being a nuisance or not to those with whom he is in 
contact. Now it is these moralities primarily, which 
compose the obligations of justice. The most marked 
cases of injustice, and those which give the tone to 
the feeling of repugnance which characterizes the 
sentiment, are acts of wrongful aggression, or 
wrongful exercise of power over some one ; the 


next are those which consist in wrongfully with- 
holding from him something which is his due : in both 
cases, inflicting on him a positive hurt, either in the 
form of direct suffering, or of the privation of some 
good which he had reasonable ground, either of a 
physical or of a social kind, for counting upon. 

The same powerful motives which command the 
observance of these primary moralities, enjoin the 
punishment of those who violate them ; and as the 
impulses of self-defence, of defence of others, and of 
vengeance, are all called forth against such persons, 
retribution, or evil for evil, becomes closely connected 
with the sentiment of justice, and is universally in- 
cluded in the idea. Good for good is also one of the 
dictates of justice ; and this, though its social utility 
is evident, and though it carries with it a natural 
human feeling, has not at first sight that obvious 
connexion with hurt or injury, which, existing in the 
most elementary cases of just and unjust, is the source 
of the characteristic intensity of the sentiment. But 
the connexion, though less obvious, is not less reaL 
He who accepts benefits, and denies a return of them 
when needed, inflicts a real hurt, by disappointing 
one of the most natural and reasonable of expectations, 
and one which he must at least tacitly have encou- 
raged, otherwise the benefits would seldom have been 
conferred. The important rank, among human evils 
and wrongs, of the disappointment of expectation, is 
shown in the fact that it constitutes the principal 
criminality of two such highly immoral acts as a 
breach of friendship and a breach of promise. Yew 
hurts which human beings can sustain are greater, 
and none wound more, than when that on which they 


habitually and with full assurance relied, fails them in 
the hour of need ; and few wrongs are greater than 
this mere withholding of good; none excite more 
resentment, either in the person suffering, or in a 
sympathizing spectator. The principle, therefore, of 
giving to each what they deserve, that is, good for 
good as well as evil for evil, is not only included 
within the idea of Justice as we have defined it, but 
is a proper object of that intensity of sentiment, 
which places the Just, in human estimation, above 
the simply Expedient. 

Most of the maxims of justice current in the world, 
and commonly appealed to in its transactions, are 
simply instrumental to carrying into effect the prin- 
ciples of justice which we have now spoken of. That 
a person is only responsible for what he has done 
voluntarily, or could voluntarily have avoide/d; that 
it is unjust to condemn any person unheard ; that the 
punishment ought to be proportioned to the offence, 
and the like, are maxims intended to prevent the just 
principle of evil for evil from being perverted to the 
infliction of evil without that justification. The 
greater part of these common maxims have come into 
use from the practice of courts of justice, which have 
been naturally led to a more complete recognition and 
elaboration than was likely to suggest itself to others, 
of the rules necessary to enable them to fulfil their 
double function, of inflicting punishment when due, 
and of awarding to each person his right. . 

That first of judicial virtues, impartiality, is an 
obligation of justice, partly for the reason last men- 
tioned ; as being a necessary condition of the fulfil- 
ment of the other obligations of justice. But this is 


not the only source of the exalted rank, among human 
obligations, of those maxims of equality and impar- 
tiality, which, both in popular estimation and in that 
of the most enlightened, are included among the pre- 
cepts of justice. In one point of view, they may be 
considered as corollaries from the principles already 
laid down. If it is a duty to do to each according to 
his deserts, returning good for good as well as repress- 
ing evil by evil, it necessarily follows that we should 
treat all equally well (when no higher duty forbids) 
who have deserved equally well of us, and that society 
should treat all equally well who have deserved 
equally well of it, that is, who have deserved equally 
well absolutely. This is the highest abstract stan- 
dard of social and distributive justice ; towards which 
all institutions, and the efforts of all virtuous citizens, 
should be made in the utmost possible degree to con- 
verge. But this great moral duty rests upon a still 
deeper foundation, being a direct emanation from the 
first principle of morals, and not a mere logical corol- 
lary from secondary or derivative doctrines. It is 
involved in the very meaning of Utility, or the 
Greatest-Happiness Principle. That principle is a 
mere form of words without rational signification, 
unless one person's happiness, supposed equal in degree 
(with the proper allowance made for kind), is counted 
for exactly as much as another's. Those conditions 
being supplied, Bentham's dictum, ' everybody to 
count for one, nobody for more than one/ might be 
written under the principle of utility as an explana- 
tory commentary.* The equal claim of everybody to 

* This implication, in the first principle of the utilitarian scheme, of 
perfect impartiality between persons, is regarded by Mr. Herbert 


happiness in the estimation of the moralist and the 
legislator, involves an equal claim to all the means of 
happiness, except in so far as the inevitable conditions 
of human life, and the general interest, in which that 
of every individual is included, set limits to the 
maxim; and those limits ought to be strictly con- 
strued. As every other maxim of justice, so this, is 

Spencer (in his ' Social Statics') as a disproof of the pretensions of 
utility to be a sufficient guide to right ; since (he says) the principle of 
utility presupposes the anterior principle, that everybody has an equal 
right to happiness. It may be more correctly described as supposing 
that equal amounts of happiness are equally desirable, whether felt 
by the same or by different persons. This, however, is not a pre- 
supposition ; not a premise needful to support the principle of utility, 
but the very principle itself; for what is the principle of utility, 
if it be not that ' happiness' and ' desirable' are synonymous terms ? If 
there is any anterior principle implied, it can be no other than this, 
that the truths of arithmetic are applicable to the valuation of hap- 
piness, as of all other measurable quantities. j 

[Mr. Herbert Spencer, in a private communication on the subject of 
the preceding Note, objects to being considered an opponent of Utili- 
tarianism, and states that he regards happiness as the ultimate end of 
morality ; but deems that end only partially attainable by empirical 
generalizations from the observed results of conduct, and completely 
attainable only by deducing, from the laws of life and the conditions of 
existence, what kinds of action necessarily tend to produce happiness, 
and what kinds to produce unhappiness. With the exception of the 
word ' necessarily,' I have no dissent to express from this doctrine ; and 
(omitting that word) I am not aware that any modern advocate of 
utilitarianism is of a different opinion. Bentham, certainly, to whom 
in the Social Statics Mr. Spencer particularly referred, is, least of all 
writers, chargeable with unwillingness to deduce the effect of actions on 
happiness from the laws of human nature and the universal conditions 
of human life. The common charge against him is of relying too 
exclusively upon such deductions, and declining altogether to be bound 
by the generalizations from specific experience which Mr. Spencer 
thinks that utilitarians generally confine themselves to. My own 
opinion (and, as I collect, Mr. Spencer's) is, that in ethics, as in all 
other branches of scientific study, the consilience of the results ot both 
these processes, each corroborating and verifying the other, is requisite 
to give to any general proposition the kind and degree of evidence 
which constitutes scientific proof.] 


by no means applied or held applicable universally ; 
on the contrary, as I have already remarked, it bends 
to every person's ideas of social expediency. But in 
whatever case it is deemed applicable at all, it is held 
to be the dictate of justice. All persons are deemed 
to have a right to equality of treatment, except when 
some recognised social expediency requires the reverse. 
And hence all social inequalities which have ceased to 
be considered expedient, assume the character not of 
simple inexpediency, but of injustice, and appear so 
tyrannical, that people are apt to wonder how they 
ever could have been tolerated; forgetful that they 
themselves perhaps tolerate other inequalities under 
an equally mistaken notion of expediency, the correc- 
tion of which would make that which they approve, 
seem quite as monstrous as what they have at last 
learnt to condemn. The entire history of social im- 
provement has been a series of transitions, by which 
one custom or institution after another, from being a 
supposed primary necessity of social existence, has 
passed into the rank of an universally stigmatized in- 
justice and tyranny. So it has been with the distinc- 
tions of slaves and freemen, nobles and serfs, patricians 
and plebeians ; and so it will be, and in part already 
is, with the aristocracies of colour, race, and sex. 

It appears from what has been said, that justice is 
a name for certain moral requirements, which, regarded 
collectively, stand higher in the scale of social utility, 
and are therefore of more paramount obligation, than 
any others ; though particular cases may occur in 
which some other social duty is so important, as to 
overrule any one of the general maxims of justice. 
Thus, to save a life, it may not only be allowable, but 


a duty, to steal, or take by force, the necessary food 
or medicine, or to kidnap, and compel to officiate, the 
only qualified medical practitioner. In such cases, as 
we do not call anything justice which is not a virtue, 
we usually say, not that justice must give way to 
some other moral principle, but that what is just in 
ordinary cases is, by reason of that other principle, 
not just in the particular case. By this useful accom- 
modation of language, the character of indefeasibility 
attributed to justice is kept up, and we are saved from 
the necessity of maintaining that there can be laud- 
able injustice. 

The considerations which have now been adduced 
resolve, I conceive, the only real difficulty in the 
utilitarian theory of morals. It has always been evi- 
dent that all cases of justice are also cases of expedi- 
ency : the difference is in the peculiar sentiment which 
attaches to the former, as contradistinguished from 
the latter. If this characteristic sentiment has been 
sufficiently accounted for ; if there is no necessity to 
assume for it any peculiarity of origin ; if it is simply 
the natural feeling of resentment, moralized by being 
made coextensive with the demands of social good; 
and if this feeling not only does but ought to exist in 
all the classes of cases to which the idea of justice 
corresponds ; that idea no longer presents itself as a 
stumbling-block to the utilitarian ethics. Justice 
remains the appropriate name for certain social utilities 
which are vastly more important, and therefore more 
absolute and imperative, than any others are as a class 
(though not more so than others may be in particular 
cases) ; and which, therefore, ought to be, as well as 
naturally are, guarded by a sentiment not only diffe- 


rent in degree, but also in kind; distinguished from 
the milder feeling which attaches to the mere idea of 
promoting human pleasure or convenience, at once by 
the more definite nature of its commands, and by the 
sterner character of its sanctions. 





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